Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I am sitting in my writing shed, watching the mother of pearl bead curtain, do its mermaid dance in the gentle wind. Its tinkling reflections echo the notes of the Chopin nocturne playing on my CD player. I look around me, entranced by the beauty of my shed. I soak up the solid wooden walls and the paintings of women reading which adorn two of them. I’d saved an especially beautiful calendar I’d bought a while ago hoping that I would finally have ‘my study’ in which to place the prints. Fortunately they didn’t have a sell-by date. Two other walls are covered by posters of my plays. The pine desk blends into its wooden background, and all my favourite books are encased in a solid pine bookcase. Vases are filled with flowers and I revel in the fact that only MY things are in this room. You see, this is the first time, since beginning my path as a fulltime writer ten years ago, that I have had a room of my own.

Virginia Woolf was asked to speak about women and fiction at Newnham and the Odtaa (One Damn Think After Another) Society in Girton in 1928. She started her address by talking instead on an apparently unrelated topic. She spoke about the need for a woman to have a room of one’s own. She could not talk in general about the very few women writers who have been honoured by the opinions of society, she said, without stressing that “a woman must have fifty pounds a year (that was big money in those days) and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

How heartily I agree with her, almost a century later. I would go on to add that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write ANYTHING of value! All the time I have been a writer I have worked from my communal bedroom, in the midst of children’s homework, husband’s socks, cats’ paw-prints, leftover breakfasts, musical instruments, someone else’s books, dirty washing and various other examples of domesticity. At some point some of these accoutrements adorned my so-called working space. Add a few heated arguments and the blaring of televisions and you have the full picture. My levels of frustration rose regularly as I’d clear my desk once again, and attempt to clear my room of people. My cries of “just imagine someone coming into your office/bedroom and holding a tea party on top of your desk while you are supposed to work,” are met by profound deafness. I wondered why I was surprised that it took so long to regain focus when I’d begin work each day. This work was of course interrupted often when people would drop in to chat and have a cup of tea. Working from home is an oxymoron in most people’s minds. “You don’t work, do you? You’re at home all day,” they’d say smugly. The fact that I have to earn enough to bankroll a number of schools, or feed a small third world country – the amounts are about the same – are not even considered.

And while I’m on the subject of working from home, it’s strange how one is considered very rude for turning down invitations to boozy lunches and for not doing your bit for the tuck shop gals because you work at home. I live with constant black looks being directed at me around the school car parks as I fetch my children between deadlines. I’m not considered one of those useful mums who ‘really contributes to the ethos of the school.’

Anyway, now that I finally have my own space I wonder how on earth I managed to make a living in such an inclement environment for so long. But there is still just one small problem. How will I manage to multiply those fifty pounds a year - especially in today’s inflation-ridden climate?

First published in The Sunday Independent, 1 October 2006.