In an obituary for her friend, Sumner Locke, Katharine Susannah Prichard said, ‘She could write anyhow and anywhere. I remember her telling a young man that when he came to her wailing about his uncongenial surroundings, and that he could not find a suitable place to work in at his boarding house “Man,” Sumner said to him, “you could write on the edge of a bath, if you wanted to.”‘ I think of that sometimes as either a goad or an encouragement. I also think of Kate Grenville saying somewhere – I’m not sure where – how the only writing time she had was when her mother looked after her young children and so she would park her car by the beach and write in the backseat leaning on a kickboard balanced over her knees. I’m sure I’ve got the details slightly wrong but I’ve taken inspiration from her during Covid and parked by the river with my laptop on my knees until it runs out of batteries – I only get an hour and a half out of it these days. (Alas, once I left my lights on and another battery ran out too; on that occasion waiting for the RAC to arrive I had some extra thinking time, the laptop already dead.)
My favourite place to write is probably the outside table in our courtyard, looking at the citrus trees along the wall. But only if I can’t hear my neighbours or the mechanics across the street and as long as it’s not too hot or too cold. And usually only when the kids aren’t home because they will come out and want to play.
My usual place to write since child number two is the dining table in our living area, overlooking the chaos of our life. I clear away the plates and sometimes get some work done while the kids are watching television. I’m pretty good at working in the middle of things. Not Sumner Locke level, but pretty good. In my day-job as a librarian, my workstation is at the reference desk and I seem to work well that way with interruptions, but only a moderate number – it’s not a busy library.
I miss writing at the university campus – the one closest to me has a lot of places to sit outside, some with power points, and desks in the library with a view over the pines to the hills. If everyone’s concentrating, it’s infectious. And there’s glorious rows of books around, or there were. But that university, like so many, has been denuding their library of books, weeding them or sending them to offsite storage. Bare libraries are a mistake and I’ll have to write separately about that. I haven’t seen the results yet because since Covid began, sadly they only let their own students into the library.
One of the lovely features of Katharine Prichard’s former residence in Greenmount is her writing studio down the garden path away from her house. I’ve sat in there writing for a time and I felt connected to her and all the years held in its walls. The inconvenient fact, however, is that it was built in 1930, after she had written her best novels. She did the best work of her life in her small cottage without a dedicated writing space, in amongst the chaos.
We might be moving soon and a secluded study to write in would be wonderful. But if I hold that hope in one hand – the Virginia Woolf hope of a room of one’s own, though she was talking for women – I’ll hold the lessons of Sumner Locke, Kate Grenville and KSP in the other hand, ‘You could write on the edge of a bath if you wanted to.’