Author August: Jon Wallace – Four writing spaces: pros and cons

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

Finding the correct writing environment is never easy, in fact it can be a right pain. I am not surprised that so many authors take to converting sheds – most of us need a peaceful hermitage, where we can get a decent day’s work in, free of domestic distractions. The shed works well as a location, boasting a certain otherness, especially if located at the bottom of the garden – where the fairies and leprechauns dwell.

Shame then that I’ve never had a shed to enjoy, having resided in a succession of miniscule London flats. Now out of the capital, I do finally own one – but it’s fair packed with the kind of junk that a prevaricating hoarder like me won’t get around to clearing for at least a decade or two.Jon Wallace

So it is that I’m forced to travel to write. I seem to keep switching locations as the years go by, and I thought it might prove instructive to compare their relative merits here:


Barbican –

I wrote the greater part of my second novel, Steeple, at the Barbican centre. I am a huge fan of its heaving concrete columns and echoing, rather shabby spaces. There was a wonderful spot where I could grab a table and a chair, plug the laptop in, and write the day away in relative peace.


Still, it could also prove challenging. There was a real risk of arriving to find the place sealed off by a major private event – entirely understandable of course, but I could never help feeling deeply miffed to find ‘my office’ hijacked in such fashion. Other visitors were more welcome: the Barbican has a fairly serious mouse infestation and often, while pondering some tricky story point over lunch, a mouse would appear and stare at me (or rather at my sandwich) as if asking: ‘you going to finish that, mate?’ The rodent visitors often seemed to bring a solution with them, and I’d start work freshly inspired.


Library –

These days I splash a bit of cash on membership to a London establishment which, for the most part, is the best writing environment I know. The place is crammed with Phds, authors and the like, and even after a full day’s slaving at the office I tend to be restored on arrival, applying myself with renewed energy for an evening session.


Still, it has its downsides: certain members view the Library as little more than a convenient central London napping location, and their sleepiness can be as infectious as others’ industry. For every three successful sessions, I experience one in a kind of trance – brought about by the snores of my neighbours and the wonderful, deep silence. Still, the library is a reliable winner, and full of the most beautiful books.


Rig TPB CoverTrain –

Ah, best and worst of possibilities. The Northern Line rush hour was way too hectic for regular writing, but the commuter train is a different beast entirely. Sure, it’s a madly overpriced, unreliable beast, but a useful one nonetheless. I normally manage to get a seat, and sitting there watching the world go by I’m often inspired to absolutely gush plot onto page. This means I have returned to pen and ink, the laptop being a bit too much of an old, heavy clunker for regular transport. Hand writing is a wonderful way of turning your first draft into a second, as you’re forced to type up your first run and correct as you go.


Of course, there are serious drawbacks. Silence reigns on the train on most occasions, but the occasional madman will insist on broadcasting his tedious mobile conversation and rip me from my reverie. Also, the gentle undulations of the train can lull me into a snooze almost effectively as Library nappers. Still, of all the locations, when this works it really works.


Vietnamese Café –

This provided a brief burst of creativity while living in London-it was a wonderful place run by beautiful people, selling delicious Vietnamese street food and coffee. I discovered it quite by accident: the proprietors thought they were too cool for a boring old ‘sign’ and so they left their shop frontage blank, waiting to be discovered. That meant the place was empty most days, and I could recline on one of their wonderfully comfy sofas and make decent progress.


It was nearer than Barbican, but I felt guilty about their lack of custom and would spend the day ordering coffee regularly–meaning that I normally departed a gibbering, trembling wretch. Eventually I decided it was too expensive a proposition, and I switched to other solutions. Recently I passed it on the bus and found it shuttered and abandoned, and felt a swine for leaving them. There was still no sign.


Jon Wallace is the author of Barricade, (“A bonafide barnstormer” – plus Steeple and Rig, which together make up the Kenstibec trilogy, published by Gollancz. He is also science fiction columnist for The Engineer magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

My personal thanks to Jon for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

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