Many writers – most? – have a need to escape the mundane and the busy to a quiet hideaway where they can argue with themselves over sentences and to secretly sneak peeks at Twitter. For research, you know. Roald Dahl, the author of many of your children’s favorite books, built himself just the place. But it wasn’t the place. So, while I pine over it, and dream of sorting out -ly words to the smell of old wood and Styrofoam, he said of the hut, “The room itself is of no consequence. It is out of focus, a place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind, as soft and silent and murky as a womb…”
But magic happened there all the same. In the same quote, he said, “When I am up here I see only the paper I am writing on, and my mind is far away with Willy Wonka or James or Mr. Fox or Danny or whatever else I am trying to cook up.’ This, of course, is the goal.
The building looks like a writing hut. The deep work or creation happens here rather than pipe smoking and staring at the fine fit of the crown molding. The centerpiece is a wing-backed English chair, perfect for catching the heat to keep the writer and the singers warm. Alas, there was no fireplace. Over the chair arms, he rested a writing table of sorts looking like something sawn from something else in a Vegas card room. He made it himself.
To his right, though, was the real treasure: trinkets and collectibles of every sort spread out on a side table. Things that fired his imagination and keepsakes from other times. His favorite, he said, was his mug, holding six pencils. It reminded him of his routine, he said. I would have something other than a pencil holder. Maybe a Porsche Matchbox car? In all, his hut measured 6 x 7 feet, about the size of my master closet. You can understand why I wince a little when someone tells me they have no place to set up for writing.
Once inside, he would step through a routine:
“Every morning, he would take a flask of coffee up to the Hut. Once there, he had a regular routine to get himself into the mood for writing. He would sharpen six pencils, brush off the eraser markings from his homemade desk (a board with green felt propped up on a roll of corrugated cardboard), pour himself some coffee and begin work. He would stay there for two hours, even if he found the writing hard work.”
I don’t have an ivy-covered brick cottage secreted on the back forty though I do piddle in my garage woodshop a bit. I have an office that I share with my wife and our Peloton, our sole paean to the god of heath and skinny bodies. We’re still searching and hoping for that one.
While I read about Dahl’s hut, though, I sense that I am made of different stuff. Not that any of it is better than the other. Yes, I know and admit that we’re different as writers so stop your laughing. I read somewhere that he has sold north of 100 million books. I’ve published two and a few articles. But, I live by my own definition of success. That’s the plaintive cry of a writer not recognized by anyone outside their family. He wanted the shed as a fortified city against the pressure of the enclosing world. Against the noise of children and the constant questions of daft adults. He wanted it for creative business, to escape kitchen alarms and vacuums.
I like those things. I love that my girls come and ask for Mall money when I write. I love that, in the middle of a tough chapter, my wife asks me to read a paper and figure out how to best write a paragraph. I love it when the girls come in from swimming, wet and dripping, and smelling of sun.
I have an older daughter who confided in me once that she loves the sounds of home.
“What do you mean,” I asked?
“You know, when you’re lying in bed, and you hear the drone of the dishwasher and the girls kicking the sheet in the next room. I love that stuff,” she says. ”It makes me feel cozy, snuggled in like a heavy blanket.”
Finally, here is an interview quote from 1970 about his hut. Already it was garnering its own following.
“You become a different person, you are no longer an ordinary fellow who walks around and looks after his children and eats meals and does silly things, you go into a completely different world. I personally draw all the curtains in the room, so that I don’t see out the window and put on a little light which shines on my board. Everything else in your life disappears and you look at your bit of paper and get completely lost in what you’re doing. You do become another person for a moment. Time disappears completely. You may start at nine in the morning and the next time you look at your watch, when you’re getting hungry, it can be lunchtime. And you’ve absolutely no idea that three or four hours have gone by.”
The internet is filled with fascinating stuff about Dahl. Did you know that the famed children’s writer rewrote the screenplay for James Bond’s You Only Live Twice? Good stuff! I especially liked these two references but a simple search will show hundreds.
To follow this rabbit hole further, go to the Writing Cooperative on Medium for 100+ Famous Authors and Their Writing Spaces. I’m not sure if there is a paywall.
Read another of my posts here about Roald Dahl and his public urging for vaccinations.
How about you? What’s your favorite place to write? Do you need quiet or do the kids banging pots bother you?
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