The builders arrived today. Or the "contractors," as I believe you call them on that side of the Atlantic. (Or do you say "construction workers"? Always makes me think of the Village People, that one...) Anyway, they've arrived to begin constructing my new office — a grandiose shed at the bottom of the garden. They only started at 9:00 this morning, but already the thing has foundations, a floor, walls, and windows. It's all happening alarmingly fast. I have a view of the whole operation from the window of my current study: as I sit writing this, I can see timbers being hauled up the path, the grass being trampled down, hammers, saws, and ladders strewn everywhere.
Writers and their lairs — fascinating ground. There's Stephen King writing Carrie and, I think, Salem's Lot on a kiddie's desk across his knees in the laundry room of a rented trailer home. Then, at the other end of the scale, there's John Updike in his mansion with his fabled four-study system. (One for fiction, one for journalism, one essays, etc.)
My current study is soon to become another bedroom, to accommodate my infant daughter, and I will be moving 100 yards down the garden. I'm very excited. Truth be told, I can't wait to join the Shed Club. Martin Amis has a glass-roofed one at the bottom of his garden where he writes and smokes — the latter activity being banned in the main house. It also has the added bonus, Amis says, of "being unable to hear the children." Other great shed-writers include Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl, and George Bernard Shaw, who said, "People bother me. I come here to hide from them." He loved his shed because his wife could legitimately tell callers he was "out." But he was smart enough to have a telephone installed with a one-way line to the main house so he could ring up for sandwiches at lunchtime. Now, that's thinking.
Dahl's widow had a realistic view of shed-life. "I tended not to go out there very often. It was very much his space." That's the great thing;once you're married and there are kids all over the place, every available inch of your house is disputed territory, subject to all kinds of land grabs. The shed is automatically a far-flung part of the empire. It's like the Falkland Islands: rugged, cold. No one wants to go there.
It was my friend, the novelist Andrew O'Hagan, who first turned me on to the world of the shed. He had one a few years back. We went out there once to watch a rough cut of a short film I'd co-written. It was great, the feeling of a wee clubhouse. We cracked open a bottle of wine and it felt like being one of the kids in Stand By Me, up in their treehouse. Also, as Andy pointed out, like GBS before him, he had to leave the big house and walk the length of the garden to go to work. Indeed, on reflection, that might be the single greatest thing about being a writer with a shed — the fact that you can piss people off by telling them you have a 30-second commute.
Wow — the roof's on now! They promised me they'd have this whole thing finished in one week maximum, but who believes builders, eh?
I'll keep you posted...
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John Niven read English literature at Glasgow University and spent the next ten years working in the United Kingdom's music industry. His debut novella, The Band: Music From Big Pink, was published in 2006 as part of the 33 1/3 series. His second novel, Kill Your Friends, was published in 2008. He lives in Buckinghamshire.
Books mentioned in this post
John Niven is the author of Kill Your Friends (P.S.)