I have traveled the world for years in search of the ideal place to write. Have I found it? Yes, but the journey ended up not being about geography.
The story starts in Dublin in 2010. I already have a room in which to write. In the room is an antique writing desk. My mother gave it to me. The room is the place I come to write in and even entering it inspires me because of the beautiful desk.
But I’m not there.
I’m attending to something – answering the door, talking to friends, doing the day job, the shopping, the washing up, the laundry, the garden, the gym, the housework.
The room sits empty, or I am in it doing paperwork. I buy pretty notebooks, put a photo on the desk. I decorate the room like a bowerbird its nest. This is to help prompt me to write in the room. But the decorating only takes up more of my time.
The room is expensive. The small house it is in came with a thirty year mortgage. The bills accumulate. House alarm, television licence, phone contracts, internet, gas, electricity, gym membership, mortgage, car petrol and servicing, house, life, car and health insurance. These are the things that keep me and my room functioning but they also wobble me away from writing. I pay the bills. Do more part-time work from home. As a result I am in the room more but write less.
A room is not enough.
So I take a career-break and move to Australia. This isolates me from friends and family. Internet is charged by the minute in my accommodation so I rarely use it. I have one suitcase of belongings. With isolation and simplicity comes a freedom to write. And I do.
In Japan I journey too much to write fluently. I learn that my room needs to mostly stay in one place if I am to write well. In Hong Kong, I live in a hotel and learn the benefits of a small, easily-maintained space. In Germany I learn the value of not speaking the local language – advertising, news, radio, television – all the chatter passes me by. I stay focused.
Back to Ireland. It is cold. The house expensive to heat. I arrive back to paperwork and bills that need catching up with, plants that need watering. I feel distracted and lumbered. Again I wobble between writing and the burdens.
Then I realise: the difference between Ireland and the other places? Not place itself. Not what they add, but what they strip away – my possessions, crutches, social networks, ties. It is apparent I need less to write, not more.
Over the next few years I shed everything.
The television, the day-job, the house, the car, my belongings, my contracts, my country. I ship the writing desk to my brother for safekeeping. I walk away from my room.
And into a better one. Because room is not a place. It is your life.
Empty of everything superfluous, so you can slip away to write without being called back to duties. A place of minimal ties so you don’t wobble from your writing.
New room, Ibiza, Spain, 2013. It’s warm. I rent a small apartment overlooking the sea so only have two, not nine, rooms to look after and pay for. I don’t know the language or many people so don’t get socially distracted. My rent is contract-less. My phone too. I hardly own anything so have nothing to look after. No mortgage, car, house, loans or contracts that need constant attention. I grow an avocado stone but that’s my only plant. I write.
From Spain to India, where a meal costs 1 Euro and daily rent, six. It comes at the expense of coffee shops, cinema, theatres, galleries, opportunities to wear high heels – these are inaccessible or impractical where I am. But India’s cheapness buys me time to write.
You see, room is a state of play. A stripped-back place of psychological and practical simplicity where everything superfluous has been removed. You have to edit your life like you would your writing. Make space into which words can come. I now have two-and-a-half novels which I am looking for a publishing deal for. So work progresses, in parallel to the search.
At the end of all this what remains? A room in which I write. Just like at the beginning, but with fewer voices calling me away.
(c) JR Hughes