Monday 13 January – and thanks to a rotten throat infection, the first day in 2014 where I feel healthy. Things can only improve from here (did you hear that, Fate?). Not that I’m fishing for sympathy, you understand. No really, not at all. Have I mentioned I’ve been ill?
But the streptococcus-induced hiatus has left me champing at the bit to get back to the old keyboard. It turns out, these days I really do miss writing when I’m prevented from doing it for a while. Surely that means I’m now fully qualified to drink from my new Christmas mug – “Keep calm, I’m a writer”? (Though in all honesty, I’m not sure that “writer” is the number 1 professional you’d be calling for in the implied emergency. “Keep calm, I’m a doctor,” yes. Or a firefighter. Or a plumber. But a writer? I can see it now: “Just keep your finger on that split in your downpipe, love; I’ll just compose a bit of flash fiction and we’ll be right as rain.”)
That’s not to say that the laptop and I have been completely separated over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been reading a manuscript for a friend; I did manage a blog post for the New Year; and of course, with my return to the day job approaching with indecent haste, there have been one or two visits to the National Lottery website. But this has all been done from a semi-recumbent position, propped up against pillows or sofa cushions. How could I possibly write anything serious when I wasn’t sat in My Special Chair?
My Special Chair sits – as you might imagine – just in front of My Special Desk. Both items of furniture were upgraded to their current status when I started my unpaid leave, retrieved from their old spot in the smallest bedroom and swapped with an armchair in front of the window of what the estate agent described – with some hyperbole – as our “sun room”. This was to be my work space, the place in which I would finally complete The Novel, unlock the mysteries of Twitter, and work out what this blogging malarkey was all about. And so on day 1, and every weekday I’ve been at home before the throat infection struck, this has been the place I’ve come to write.
Over the last six months, it’s become strangely important to me. Besides the desk and chair, there’s just enough space for a small bookcase, a plug-in radiator, and a basket for whichever of the cats gets there first. It catches the morning sun, gently lifting my mood as I sip a cuppa and gradually acquaint myself with a new day. And it gives me a view out over the garden, allowing me to keep track of any incursions by The Lynx (annoying and enormous Tomcat who enjoys regular missions to harass our own furry girls); and beyond the garden fence to the street beyond, where the passage of the occasional car and pedestrian satisfies my rampant nosiness.
It doesn’t, it turns out, entirely fit the Stephen King criteria for an efficient writing space as set out in his excellent book, On Writing. My desk is against the wall, it’s true – which, given the diminutive size of the sun cupboard, as good as places it in the corner (where King states your writing desk should be as a reminder that “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around”). But the view out of the window isn’t the plain wall he calls for as a means of avoiding distractions. Instead, it reminds me that I’m here, in my home, looking out over my garden, doing something I love – in other words, most definitely not in the wood veneer monotony of the open plan office. In any case, Mr King also tells us to avoid having a phone on the desk, despite the cover photo showing him with his feet up on his own desk, scribbling away on a notepad balanced on his legs, with his trainers right next to – you’ve guessed it – a bloody great telephone. This is one of those occasions, it seems to me, when knowing the rules means you can break them.
There are unwanted side effects, though, to the creation of my lovely little writing nest. The addition of an armchair to the smallest bedroom – which already contained a sofa bed and a canapé – means that if you were to stand in the doorway and launch yourself in any direction, you’d almost certainly land on something upholstered. It’s reminiscent of a chill-out room at some 80s rave. Or possibly a padded cell. I’d always thought this would be a temporary issue, and that I’d replace the armchair with My Special Desk and Chair when I went back to work. Now, though, there’s something vaguely threatening about that idea. It feels like throwing in the towel, admitting that I’m never going to be a serious writer. It feels a bit like throwing away my dreams.
Can it really matter, having one particular place where you write? The thing is, I’ve started to believe it matters to me. And perhaps that’s all it takes.