• The Dark Room

Where I Write Part Four

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Where I Write

By Vanessa O'Loughlin

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As writers we know that you are a curious lot – not nosey, of course – curious. And what is more interesting than finding out exactly where some of Ireland’s most successful writers actually write? Do you need a special place? Do you need a special chair? In Where I Write Part Four, Yvonne Cassidy kicks us off…

When I was younger, I talked about writing, a lot, spent more time talking about writing than I spent doing any. The problem, as I saw it, was that apart from not having enough time, I didn’t have a place to write. I needed a room, with a desk and a swivel chair. Oh, and a laptop. You couldn’t be a writer without a laptop.

The laptop came first, then a small desk, wedged in the corner of my apartment. A couple of years later I moved, and finally, I got a whole room to write. I celebrated by buying a bright orange swivel chair from Ikea.

I spent a lot of time in that room. I covered the walls with brown paper so I could stick up cut outs from magazines and post it notes with lines of dialogue and ideas for scenes. I stacked the shelves with writing books, articles, photocopies from classes I went to. I did a lot of planning there, figuring out what my characters were like and why they said the things they said. The irony, though, is that when I look back at my first two novels, I realise that I didn’t do too much actual writing there. Most of getting the words down was done somewhere else – in coffee shops, libraries, even in the car. I wrote the last chapter of my first novel on the train to Belfast.

For me, libraries are my favourite places to write. It’s like going to work – when I am there, I am writing, nothing else. Being surrounded by shelves of books seems to elevate my own writing somehow, giving my words something to live up to. I love to write in the National Library on Kildare Street. The round reading room is perfect – green lamps casting a silent glow on wooden desks, a dome of glass overhead. After a while, the guards greet you by name. One of them bought a copy of my first novel for his wife.

Last year, I moved to Manhattan, a move that meant giving up my writing room. I still have a desk, by a window and luckily, my favourite place in the world to write is only a twenty minute walk away – the New York Public Library. Guarded by stone lions and marble pillars the building is impressive, almost daunting, but you don’t even need a card to access the reading room. There are long wooden tables and yes, more lamplight. Through the windows, you can see the trees from Bryant Park, the Empire State Building. It’s a room that lets in just the right amount of New York but keeps the right amount out too – leaving you enough space for your imagination.

Right now, I don’t have twenty minutes, so I am writing this in Starbucks. Next to me, a man is doing a business deal on his mobile. Music is playing and someone is watching videos on their computer. I used to need total silence to write, but that’s one of the things I’ve noticed changing – now, I grab whatever space I can, wherever I am. I have to. And the more I do it, the easier it gets.

So, if, like me, you worry because you don’t have the perfect room, or desk, or chair, don’t. These things will come in handy, but you don’t need them. You’ll need lots of other things – belief, curiosity, discipline, characters and ideas that nag at you, a compulsion to get things down on paper. But something tells me that if you’re on this website, reading this article – you have most of what you need already.

Yvonne’s new novel What Might Have Been Me is out now, published by Hachette Ireland. Her novel, The Other Boy, was published in 2010 and is also available from all good bookshops.Check out Yvonne’s article on writing dialogue Say What? right her on writing.ie and find out more about her at www.yvonnecassidy.com 

In complete contrast, satirical writer Donal Conaty writes in a shed! He told us, “I write in an old farm shed in a corner of our garden. As you can see from the picture, there is a wood burning stove beside my desk. This is cute but not terribly effective so I often have gloves on while typing.

The shed has a tin roof and the noise of birds landing on it or the wind blowing is amplified. We’re on the edge of the Atlantic in Sligo so the noise of the wind is pretty loud but I like it.

I generally work here from 6am to 8am. Then I sort the kids for school and come back to the shed at about 9.30. I’ll work till around 2.30 with plenty of breaks for walking dogs, cutting grass or, and this is important, staring vacantly at nothing. When the kids are off school I head for the shed earlier (around 5am) and spend the rest of the day on the doss with them. Easter has come at a bad time this year as I’m trying to finish a first draft of a novel! And, as well as working on the novel I scour the news each morning for a story to satirise in The Mire (www.themire.net) – the daily blog where I spoof Irish news and politics. This only takes 20 or 30 minutes – probably because Enda Kenny and his pals make it so easy for me!

The shed doubles as a games room so there are plenty of distractions including a pool table and an X Box. My writing rule is that I don’t leave the shed until the scene I’m working on is finished. There’s nothing in the rules that says I can’t play pool or use the Xbox. Rules you make up yourself are generally the best ones.”

Donal Conaty is the author of the hilarious political satire of the IMF bailout and eurozone crisis The Eighty-Five Billion Euro Man, available in print in all good book shops. The Kindle edition is on sale on Amazon all this week for only 99 centsDowload Kindle to your phone or laptop for free here.

A short excerpt from the book featuring the Bertie shrine in the Department of Finance is available here: http://www.themire.net/the-bertie-shrine-in-the-dept-of-finance/

Irish Mystery Writer, Laurence O’Bryan describes where he writes as a messy junk room. It is lit by a single low watt yellow bulb and a thin strip window on one wall. For an hour a day sunlight fills the room.

The best aspect of the room is that it is warm in winter. The room is in the centre of his semi detached home in Rathfarnham. It has been his writing den for six years. Piles of books line each wall, almost to the ceiling. Books bulge from a red bookcase. Boxes of research papers are piled on one of the two tables in the room. Some of the papers are in nice boxes from Ikea, a vain attempt at bringing order to the chaos.

The table they are on is six foot long and boot black, a relic of his father’s modernist office from 1970’s Dublin. It dominates the room. The other table is a rectangle of toffee brown wood. Behind it sits his black office chair. It is one of those ones you can spin around in. He never spins. But he does lean back occasionally.

The walls are covered in personal pictures, an ancient 1980’s map of the trade routes of global injustice, a medieval map of Istanbul, drawings his children made in their early years in school. On his writing table, the toffee brown one, there is a laptop, a printer, and a woodwormed box from his childhood overflowing with receipts and cassettes and business cards and markers and broken watches and mobile phone cables. Notes and papers bulge from every surface. Maybe they are breeding? It is a great surprise to anyone who visits that a writer can write in the dead centre of such a mess. One day he will tidy it. But not today. Today there is a book to be written. And there is another one to be written after that.

Looks warmer than the shed, but I’m with Yvonne, Starbucks in Manhattan here I come!

About the author

(c) Vanessa O’Loughlin, Yvonne Cassidy, Donal Conaty and Laurence O’Bryan April 2012


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