“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
I wake and start tearing things up. The attic, a mess. The attic, remnants of childhood, my niece’s childhood, my time doing my Masters. Boxes of clothes and books, boxes leaking out onto the floor, touching pieces of paper and books my mother has read and discarded. Christmas ornaments falling out of bags, large boxes the television once occupied that my father will never part with. This room. This attic, once my sister’s and then, once mine.
At twelve I write a nine-page story with elation – it is a masterpiece, of course. One night I wake and in a frenzy of writer’s inspiration I turn this nine-page story into a ninety-page story. I conclude this is the final chapter in a five part series called The Truth of the Five. I write the first in winter, by candlelight, with ink and a pen my mother bought me. I write it when I come home from school, at the dining table, and when my mum comes home from work she bangs the light on and asks why I was writing in the dark. “For affect,” I reply.
The series stops at book five, by that point there are two ‘novels’ completed – both finishing at 250 pages, both masterpieces, of course. I still don’t have a room to write. I write in my bedroom, on my lap, sometimes at the desk with the large, heavy computer. I try to write at the dining table but that is rare, people are around. My sister moves out.
I want the attic. I want her room. I want that to be my study. Nobody else will use it. It will become a place of ruin and junk. I want it as my study. My parents say, “Wait six months, if she’s not back by then, you can have it.” Six months pass. I get the room. My mum takes me to Staples to buy a desk, it has a drawer that throws itself open, a place to keep files – I have no files. I have a place to write. My dad turns the space behind me into a book shelf that I occupy with the thousands of pounds spent on my favourites. I have a place to write. I am elated.
I am fifteen and writing something new – another masterpiece – based in Cardiff, a fantasy, called Shifter. I deny that it is influenced by the film and book Jumper. I deny that I have stolen that concept and it is about teleportation and Vampires. I write. I write and spend months writing it. It is the best thing I have written. I move the desk around, I put it in the middle of the room, in front of the books, my own space. I write at the new, less heavy computer, banging on the keys. I write in the winter mainly, till late, and my mother tells me I have to go to bed, ready for school. How can I? I’m writing this masterpiece, surrounded by my books and at my very own desk.
The room starts to become collected with random things. A mask I bought from Turkey hangs behind me, it drops and slams against the ground – it scares the crap out of me. I’m writing a scene based at the Millennium Stadium, Vampires are dying, the bobbing heads on my desk are rattling. I wake up one morning and know this morning will be the morning I will finish my next ‘book’. It’s already 300 pages long, nearing 100,000 words. I am ready. I ascend the staircase. This is a routine. This is a formula. This is going to work. I sit and do not eat or drink or move until I am finished. I write fifty pages and I am done, not changing the last line because the last line has been in my head since the beginning. I print.
Around me are my past masterpieces, my past attempts. The two and a half parts to the series of five. The two ‘novels’ of the seven part fantasy I was working on. Bad short stories. Horrible poetry. And now Shifter, something I’m proud of. Something I started and finished in this room, the room where I wrote with lamps surrounding me, the room where my parents put a futon and people came and sat and talked to me when I had breaks.
I give the ‘novel’ to my school librarian and mentor, Jessica Robinson. She, the first person to ask an important question – an original important question: “How many characters does it have?” I harass her as she reads it. “Are you done yet?” “What do you think?” This is my first reader. I am nothing but impatient.
I work on the next ‘novel’ – the first in a trilogy, based in a Wizard prison, I am influenced by The Dark Knight. I finish it. I print. I take the huge manuscript down stairs where my parents are having drinks with their friends. I drop it on the table, it makes a thud. My dad’s friend says, “What are you going to do with it now?” I think. I know what. I’ve already sent the past ‘novels’ out to literary agents, even Random House – all kindly rejected. Me not knowing – I am fourteen, I am fifteen, I am sixteen, I know very little. I go out that night and celebrate finishing novel six with my friends. We get drunk in a park.
I read Revolutionary Road in bed, in my bedroom, and I know I have to write something new now, something similar, something brand new. I write Pied Piper, the longest ‘novel’. I write it when I am in college and I use my friendship group as props. They are my characters. They are my April and Frank Wheeler. I write, shyly, about homosexuality. That is new. That has not been done in this room before. The mask and the bobbing heads haven’t really heard me discuss sex and homosexuality. I do it and am scared.
I write more, clinging to fantasy but feeling myself getting tugged away. My fingers are bleeding. I have been writing bad stories for years, calling them novels and learning along the way. I have read Yates and I want to read more Yates. I write another novel, three novellas. I meet my first boyfriend. I tell him I want to write a literary horror novel. We talk about it in the Brecon Beacons. I feel inspired. I go back to my parents’ house, I still have my room of one’s own. I apply for Universities near me. I don’t want to give up this room. I’m not ready to part with it.
More books have populated, more ornaments around, manuscripts pile up against the wall, rejection letters hide in my drawer. I write the literary horror novel with a new audience, with my boyfriend who talks me through it. We argue over a character drinking whiskey at dinner. “It’s in his character,” I say. “He wouldn’t drink whiskey, he would drink wine.” We don’t talk for two hours.
I enrol at University. I meet Raymond Carver, his story Tell The Women We’re Going changes everything. I want to write short stories. I want to write ‘literature’. I finish the novel. My boyfriend says, “why not this?” and I am angry because he is right. It’s a better ending. I dedicate the novel to him.
My room is my own, there is not a touch of anyone else here. The books, the ornaments, even the futon is all mine. I decide it is time to leave. I have to say goodbye to the room but I try to take it all with me. I move into a house with my friends and the room has a desk, it has drawers, it becomes my own space but not quite as brilliant. I move, the next year, into a new house – the smallest room in the house, an attic room almost. I love it.
There are no shelves so I stack books under the desk. The chair resembles the chair in my attic study – a chair my dad brought home from work and we crammed up the small staircase. I fill the walls with postcards that inspire me, posters and articles. I have, hanging over my desk, a piece of paper I have carried with me since the last house, a mini poem my friend, Hannah, wrote: “There was a house of men. They lived as a trio of poets, writers and creatures of crude love and romance. They lived like creations of fantasy in their own enchanted castle, waiting for beauty to come and break the spell of the beasts.”
I write my dissertation in this room, the desk faces the window. I hear the rain crackle against the glass, I feel the cold coming in. I write wearing a cardigan. My friends come in and sit on my bed and talk to me. I have my ornaments on top of the wardrobe and piled on my chest of drawers. This room has candles, it smells of lavender. A new room of one’s own.
I move to Coventry and the room is long, extended almost – it belonged, once, to an old person. I am not allowed to put posters up in this room, I do anyway. I bring as many books as I can cram in the car, some old favourites – my five editions of Alice in Wonderland, three editions of Lord of the Flies, Carol Ann Duffy poems. The first thing I do is fill the shelves and occupy the desk with my notebooks. The room is crammed and my own within minutes. It lacks the cosiness but it is my own.
I meet my housemate Eric, he borrows books from me each week. My other housemates, MJ and MK, come in, sit on my bed, talk to me, touch the ornaments. I don’t mind, I enjoy it. I am not a therapist, I am a writer and this is my writer’s space – come into my world. Eric reads me his poetry as I sit at my desk, he stands in front of the sink I imagine old people washing their faces in. We drink in this room, we talk about books in this room.
I move to Milan and the room is small, cramped, I finish my novel there. The novel I consider a novel. The novel I am excited about and other people are excited about, the novel I believe in. The room has a bed, drawers, a chair and a tiny desk that, when I get going, it rattles. I only have five books with me, it makes me incredibly sad. This room, the only room, I do not have a place to keep the many books. This room, the only room, I cannot open a book at a random page, read, feel that burst and go back to what I was doing.
I finish the novel at the tiny desk and think of Stephen King in his laundry room. I think, my room of one’s own, my lucky, lucky, rooms. I think, the three wonderful rooms I have had, the two tepid ones in between. I finish the novel in Milan, I return home, to Cardiff and my old room, the room that was once my own, the room that was once my study, the attic study, is not there anymore. Behind books and Christmas ornaments, the books I left behind. My niece’s papers and crayons are scattered across the floor. The desk I once sat at, pushed into a corner. The desk is sad and the books are sad, this is a sad room.
I stay at home for two months, writing, editing, sending things out, getting rejections. I apply for jobs, write articles, run errands, live with my family. I write in my bedroom, in a chair, thinking “I’ll do it like Roald Dahl did,” but I am not happy. Dahl wrote in a chair, in his shed, he had his room of one’s own. I lay awake in bed one night. It is 3am. I cannot sleep. I can never sleep. I don’t know why.
I get up and start tearing things up. I drag the sad desk to the middle of the room, I push old boxes of me and you to corners. I dust off my little ornaments, I put everything to a new way of me and a new way of my surroundings. I sit at my desk, writing this essay, with the rain against the window, the candle burning, the heads bobbing, in my room of one’s own.