A room of one’s own. Endless biscuits. Coffee, democracy, a cleaner, an osteopath, reliable wifi and an ergonomic chair with lumbar support. These are some of the things that contemporary authors say they need in order to write. Publishers are paying writers a pittance, say bestselling authors
Read more These requirements have been shared in response to a new survey from the Royal Society of Literature , which will be published to mark the 90th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own . Woolf said that a woman needed £500 a year and a lock on the door in order to stand a chance as a writer of fiction, and not much seems to have changed since then.
Except perhaps the modern novelist’s choice of snack. It was Woolf’s view that “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” and she reserved unlikely vitriol for the meal that was once served to her at a women’s college at Cambridge. “Prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser’s heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers’ veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor,” she wrote. It’s a mercy, really, that Woolf didn’t live to experience avocado toast . ‘I have taken afternoon tea with Judith Kerr and seen her neat and airy attic office, where the original Mog the cat used to come and help with the illustrations.’ Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer People who aspire to write often have a particular fascination with how authors work and the environments that inspire their creativity. The long-running Guardian series Writers’ Rooms offered an unmissable insight into the basements and studies of writers past and present, revealing, for example, that Deborah Moggach, Martin Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard felt they couldn’t write without smoking cigarettes; that Louis de Bernières, Amis and Roald Dahl wrote in sheds at the ends of their gardens; and that Clive James, Wendy Cope and AL Kennedy all rely on their fancy chairs. Sarah Waters revealed that her best advice to aspiring writers is wholly practical: “Make sure your desk and chair are set up properly! Don’t get RSI!”
Some writers and their work seemed intimately connected to their writing spaces. The historian David Starkey’s room was “in an 18th-century house and was fitted out by one of the more bizarre figures of mid-20th-century British public life, Sir Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull-Hugessen”. Jane Austen wrote at a tiny, 12-sided, walnut table, next to a front door; she refused to fix the door’s creak so that she would know when anyone was coming and could hide her work under blotting paper. How literary history could have been different if WD-40 had been invented in the 18th century.
As an interviewer of authors, it is a goal and a privilege to see inside their writing rooms. I have taken afternoon tea with Judith […]