I recently took the opportunity of a few clear days to book myself into a hotel for some dedicated writing time, away from it all. I splashed out on a really nice hotel in the Cotswolds. I splashed out on a really nice room too, with a four poster bed. Who says writers can’t enjoy a bit of luxury from time to time?
The room turned out to be beautiful. There was a glorious mullioned stone window with a cute little cushioned seat overlooking the garden. Granted, you needed a cute little bottom to go with it if you were going to manage to sit there for long. The bed, with its vast floral canopy, had a mattress so high off the ground it looked like I’d need a running jump to hop on board. I pictured myself lying there and felt vaguely ridiculous.
Meanwhile, the receptionist explained to me about Wifi and dinner times. But I was only half listening. I was distracted by the sound of a man’s voice intruding from below. Was someone talking in the garden? Was someone hard of hearing watching television? No, the receptionist explained, it was the manager in his office. But, I said, I wanted somewhere quiet. Is he there very often? Well, she looked at me curiously, he does work there, but he’s also out in service a lot of the time. Ah. Ok-aa-ay.
Half an hour later, my suitcase remained unpacked and I stood surveying the opulence of my room, the manager’s voice still booming through the floor. I went back to reception and said I wasn’t happy. Couldn’t they find me another room? Forget the four poster bed, I just wanted somewhere tucked out of the way.
An incredulous, but friendly, porter came and showed me a room in the attic. No four poster bed, no window seat, eaves that cramped and rather overbearing wallpaper. I bent low to peer out of the rickety window. It gave out onto the rooftops. Perfect, I said, and threw open my suitcase.
I didn’t actually do much writing in my room. I wrote mostly in the hotel ‘library’ in front of a well stoked fire. This welcoming room attracted residents and non-residents alike through the course of the day. They came and went with their dogs and their newspapers and their books and their chit-chat and partook of cream teas and aromatic coffees. I remained in the corner, tap tapping away on my laptop, an array of empty plates, tea and coffee cups accumulating on the table before me, my shoes kicked off, my body half sprawled upon the sofa, my cheeks reddened by the fire. People looked at me as if I was one of those strange types you sometimes get in these places: best ignored, not to be encouraged.
You might argue that it was contradictory of me to complain about the manager’s voice intruding into my room whilst electing to write in a communal space where people congregated. But, the two aren’t at all the same. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.
‘Would Madam like this nice table by the window?’ the waiter asked as I walked into the dining room. No, thank you, Madam would prefer to sit over there underneath that spotlight so she can see to read her book. Thus, Madam inadvertently made herself the restaurant’s illuminated centrepiece.
‘Would Madam like some coffee?’ (When you’re dining alone, dinner doesn’t take very long.) Yes please: I’ll take it in the lounge by the fire. Out came the laptop again. A young couple arrived with their after dinner drinks and settled down to some serious canoodling on the sofa opposite. They were very much in love. But this woman tap tapping away on her laptop soon put a stop to that and they were off looking for somewhere else to smooch. I have to say, if I were them, I’d think I was a public nuisance.
Being a writer in a place where no one else is writing is a lonely business. But being a writer is a lonely business wherever you are. In the end, there is only you and the page. Of course, you can go to retreats where other writers reside. There, you can convene with sympathetic souls and talk about writing and, hopefully, no-one will think you’re weird, or annoying. I’ve done that and loved it and will do it again. I have also taken myself off into complete isolation where the only distraction is the compelling phenomenon of absolute silence and I’ve enjoyed that too. But, sometimes, it does you no harm to plonk yourself in the midst of a regular social milieu, amongst people who aren’t writing and to write there too. It’s all good. Writing is an eminently portable activity. You can vary your workspace as much as you like. A bit of variation here and there is, I find, a useful way to keep the creative juices flowing. Some occasional luxury thrown in doesn’t do any harm either.
Another cream tea for the weirdo in the corner? Don’t mind if I do.