Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Spring Cleaning

This is the place I've been working, a designated cosy spot in half a room I've been sharing with a large bookshelf containing Charlie's, Fred's and Emma's library. (That's Dad, Grandad and Great-Aunt.) The top half of the room has a large platform, hand-made by a friend, which is the general dump for anything no-one has a use for any more. As you can see, this place has seen some life. Note the mess. Obviously something really important is going on here to warrant such scant concern for order. There's also a little note stuck on the lamp which says 'WRITER' just in case I forget what I'm doing, and two USB's inserted for belt and braces. There's a mouse, surprisingly not the hairy kind, and it's sitting on a woman's bottom, again not hairy and not mine, I hasten to add, because it's a picture on a mouse mat given to a friend who didn't see the joke. Oh dear. And that's a clothes line above the chair, for emergencies, and my favourite cup with some non-plussed Lewis Chessmen on the side, from the British Museum. (Should be in Scotland.)

This is where Mavis's Shoe was written. I'm not very proud of this. This really is a complete mess. It is a corner of my bedroom or rather a side of it and it's clear I wasn't taking this writing business very seriously. Except that the blue chair which dominates is actually a very special chair known as 'The Magic Chair' partly because I painted it a rather magic blue and partly because it has a sticker on the front which is about fifteen years old and says in big letters 'MAGIC'. But perhaps because it seems like an act of magic that Mavis's Shoe was ever written at all, especially in the midst of so many drying towels.

The bar at the top of this blog is from another place I work, a little corner in Ironbbratz studios in the middle of Glasgow. Strictly speaking it's a visual arts community but they let me in anyway because I was so keen. And I do find, when I get lost, that visual art and music often bring me home to writing. They do wonderful things up there in Ironbbratz and a walk round the other studios is always uplifting.

However, the time has come for a change, so for the past three days I have been swapping my bedroom for my workroom. Some would call this prevarication. I am after all at the very early and important stages of putting fingertips to keyboard at the start of a new novel about Lenny and her pals and it is in fact just like exams: anything is easier than getting on with the job in hand.

Isn't this amazing? This is the Charlie-Fred-Emma library spread out on the floor in the same order they sat on the shelves. The two rows at the bottom are mine. There are about twice as many books on other shelves in all the wrong places around the house which are mine and certain others'. I just love books and I know I'll never get to read half of the ones I haven't already read unless I start now and do nothing else until I stop breathing. (Which might be soon - they're very dusty.) The shelves are now where my bed used to be and the books back in place. There is a wood-burning stove on another wall and a large window looking out through the trees. The walls, as you can see round the Mavis's Shoe table, are the green of new leaves on a lime tree. But the weirdest thing is that my desk is now where that table used to be, just as I'm saying hello to Lenny again.

The last time I was in the studio I grabbed a pile of poetry books to bring home and be inspired by. They were sitting on the corner of my desk when the great workroom-bedroom swap began. This one was on top. Spring Cleaning, by Jean 'Binta' Breeze. The poem of the same title is one of my earliest favourite poems in which a Jamaican woman is sweeping out her house. This is a poem I have read out loud to myself many times. It is a greatly calming poem and is particularly apt today, for which I thank the poet. Here are a few lines:

she watching
all de dark spirits
departing wid de dus

sunrise in er eyes

an ever


  1. When Carrie and I were looking for a flat to buy I placed two conditions on her: 1) that we should each have our own office and 2) no garden. Nothing else mattered and the first time I stepped inside the flat we now live in we’d bought it—I trusted my wife completely and we’ve been quite happy here ever since. I still have the office but when I fell ill Carrie bought me a laptop and I started working in the living room and never left. I like that the office is there with all its shelves full of books and its sense of order—not that it’s very orderly at the moment because I have a desk full of Xmas presents to wrap—but it doesn’t take much to restore order. She been encouraging me to move back in, not that she wants rid of me but she thinks it will be good for me to relocate to go to work, but I’m dragging my feet. I actually like having my wife around and work just fine with her sitting in her recliner pottering away on her laptop; we are a pair.

    I’m also dragging my feet starting my next book. I wrote an opening a few weeks back and then, as I did with my fourth book, sat on it not sure in what direction I wanted to go and terrified I headed off the wrong way. There are times I wish I was a plotter but I just can’t work that way.

    I always like to see where other authors work. It puts everything in perspective like the room where Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring; it contained an upright piano, a stool and that was it. I don’t even think there was a carpet.

  2. Like the idea of Stravinsky's upright piano and stool. Hemingway wrote standing up at a podium. I think Virginia Woolf did something similar. The most important part is, of course, turning up and keeping turning up and not worrying about the place you turn up to being in one particular way or other. I find changing location, kitchen table, sofa, cafe, borrowed house etc always helpful. It is also possible to think you're prevaricating when actually you're circling a problem and waiting for that moment when the clouds of confusion shift and it all comes clear. It's windy and the air is clearing.