Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” So, what do we do if we don’t have both of these much desired essentials? Do we throw ourselves down on the floor screaming, “I’ll never be a writer!”? Not at all. Writers are made of far stronger stuff.
Yes, I have space at home to write, as many authors do, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily have the freedom to write without constant interruptions.
For several weeks of the year I create that much needed ‘room of her own’ in which to write. I pack my little car to the hilt with camping gear and head off to Dorset. On a fabulous campsite with views across Chesil Beach we pitch our tent. It isn’t a fun-park, theme-park type of campsite, especially not out of season when I choose to go. It’s tranquil. Bordering a nature reserve, the noisiest things we hear at night are the owls hooting in the trees overhead, and the waves crashing against far off pebbles. Unless it’s harvest time and the farmers have to work all night to get their crops in before it rains! On those nights we hear combine harvesters rumbling across distant fields, and rush out to see them lit up like spaceships manoeuvring in the dark. It’s all part of the fun.
Now, I expect you’re envisaging a little two man tent and a camp fire flickering under the stars. Nothing quite so romantic, I’m afraid; but I expect you’ve already sneaked a peek at the photo, haven’t you? My tent is a veritable mansion! The label says it sleeps six adults, and yes, there are only two of us. Furthermore, we cheat. We pay a bit extra so that we can have an electric hook-up to power my laptop, run a light and boil a kettle. When it’s really cold we also plug in a heater. This enormous space is no longer a tent: it’s the author’s hub.
My partner and I use the main living area for sitting and chatting, and eating together. We cook in the little front canopy. The sleeping area we fill with king-size inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and extremely warm duvets. It can get very cold in Dorset in September. Of an evening, this sleeping compartment becomes my ‘room of her own.’ After supper I say the now famous words, “I’m going in.” My partner nods sagely and switches the kettle on. Once inside my room, with the partitioning flap zipped up, I sit cross legged on my mattress, set up my laptop, and pull the duvet around my shoulders. After a while my partner calls, “Tea’s ready,” and I unzip the dividing flap just enough to reach out and be handed my mug of tea.
From then on I write, mostly straight through until morning. Zipped in my secret room, with the light filtering through from the living area, I’m in a world all of my own. It’s magic. Every so often I pass my empty mug out through the flap, and miraculously it gets filled up again with hot tea. It’s very much like having a room of my own with service!
Please don’t think that I totally ignore my partner. During the day we go for long walks, and I take photographs of the wildlife: or we go into Bridport, West Bay or Weymouth and meet some of the locals. Every Saturday in Bridport there’s a flea-market, and we love to go along and have a good rummage, pick up something vintage or a few crystals from one of our favourite stall-holders. Speaking of crystals, in West Bay you can find pieces of calcite along the cliff faces, and fossils as well if you’re lucky.
Sometimes we just walk and talk. On one such occasion we were walking along the Fleet from the campsite to Old Fleet Church, having great fun discussing and enacting a fight scene I was in the process of writing in Saving Anna. Passers-by must have thought we were completely mad, as we kept pretending to strike one-another with a knife, which to them would have been quite invisible. At times a piece of driftwood stood in for the weapon, and then we had to explain that I was an author, and that we weren’t really having a punch-up and trying to hurt each other. By the time we got back to the tent, some three hours later at dusk, we’d finalised the fight scene; every move choreographed to perfection, every word spoken flowing smoothly. We were excited. It was so well planned.
“I’ll make supper,” my partner said. “While you go in and get it written down.”
So, in I went, the action we’d outlined fresh in my mind. I read through the couple of paragraphs I’d already written leading up to the fight scene, drank tea: then began typing.
Within fifteen minutes I called out, “Sorry!”
My partner rushed to the partitioning flap and whispered, “What’s happened?”
“As soon as I started writing, Talbot went and did something completely different,” I explained. “I couldn’t help it. He just didn’t want the fight to end up like that.”
My partner sighed, heavily. “That man Talbot’s a rogue. You can never trust him to follow orders.”
We laughed, but you see, this is what happens, when a woman has a room of her own in which to write fiction. In the peace and solitude of one’s own space, the story takes on a life all of its own.