Where I Write: Through the keyhole

Kirsten's writing room
Category: Writing

Sometimes, in my creative writing classes, we do a ‘Through the Keyhole’ exercise, where the students have to create a room in their character’s home, with all the things you might find there. The idea is that to some extent, the space we inhabit defines us, says something about who we are.

If this is true, then the idea that my writing space might define me is slightly alarming.  But judge for yourself.  Here are some of the things in my writing room right now:

Two cups of cold tea. One congealing, one with mould just beginning to form.

A crisp packet.

A story waiting to be edited.

A half drunk Innocent smoothie.

A scribbled pile of lists.

A child’s green checked hair bobble.

A hairbrush.

A packet of labels.

A jar containing several coloured lollipop sticks with first names written on them.

A copy of 44 Things by Kirsty Gunn, which I bought because it was beautiful but have not found time to read yet, so I put it on my desk and look at it instead.

A pile of fleecy blankets.

Christmas wrapping paper.

A pile of maps.

A castle made from eggboxes.

The walls, by the way, are decorated with stickers. I would like to claim that this is because of my natural writerly eccentricity, but in fact it’s because this little attic room used to be the children’s playroom.  Because you can’t stand up in it, it’s only really suitable for writing and housing midgets. As a consequence I have, on my walls, a picture of a frog in a car and a mouse pushing a pram full of cakes.

So at this point, you might hear Loyd Grossman say, “What kind of person would use this room?” Apparently a manky, unhealthy person who pretends to be healthy. A person who doesn’t finish things. A disorganised person, worse, a disorganised mother slightly obsessed with her hair. Can’t remember people’s names. Likes to label things. No time to read. Cold. Hasn’t tidied the room since Christmas. Gets lost easily. Makes strange things out of eggboxes. More than a bit mad.

And this, by the way, is all frighteningly close to the truth. Still, I’m lucky enough to have a writing space,  a space that is all my own and relatively free from interruption. But in fact, it’s not always where I write. I like to move around. So I write in the kitchen, in a cardboard box in the garden (the laptop, not me) or in the shed. 

None of these places are perfect. They can be too hot or cold. They are often infested, in turn, by slaters and ants and children. But once I open my netbook and enter the zone, I could really be anywhere. I could be anyone. Because when I write -- when I really write -- the clutter, the mank, the madness of my life slips away. My writing space is the writing itself.

Kirsten McKenzie

Kirsten is the author of The Chapel at the Edge of the World and The Captain's Wife. Kirsten's short fiction and poetry has also been published in Gutter magazine and New Writing Scotland. She is currently working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Find out more about Kirsten's work on her website.