Style and Substance: The Writer’s Room

We are fascinated with the lives of our favorite authors, always wanting to know more about the enigmas who grab us with their telling of the stories that keep us up at night, turning page after page. We read their private correspondences and official biographies, thirsty for some insight into each one’s private life and writing process.  And now we have another way of satisfying our curiosity of these brilliant wordsmiths.

A few years ago the Guardian published a series of interviews with authors about their writing spaces. Interestingly, many of these Nobel and Pulitzer-prize winning figures choose the bedroom as their workspace. It’s fascinating to see how much each room reflects the personas of these authors, as we imagine them through their work.

Here is a selection that shows off another side to some of the world’s best-loved writers’ literary styles:

Alexander Masters’ bedroom evokes his writing in a couple of ways. He explains that his bed is central to his writing as it’s the first thing he does upon waking. The crocodile skin on the wall is a pervasive token throughout his work, too:

The crocodile is my talisman. He was the first thing I drew for publication, was on the cover of the hardback of Stuart: A Life Backwards, and makes an appearance in The Genius in My Basement. I bought him desiccated, rolled into a ball, and had to soak him in the bath for a week before he’d uncurl. Thrills – the book above the oil painting – is there because it’s gorgeous.

A bed, a fireplace, a desk, and a few chairs. Does anything exemplify Thoreau's idea of simple living more than his 10'x15' home in the woods?

Michael Morpurgo wrote War Horse in this bed… in longhand. He first tried writing at a table, then a lectern, before discovering a picture of Robert Louis Stevenson writing in his own bed in Samoa. From then on, Morpurgo was hooked; he says the bed is a wonderful place for “dreaming up a tale, and weaving it inside my head.”

For many years, I wrote on our bed in the house. But there were complaints about ink on the sheets, dirty feet on the bed, and we felt we should try to create somewhere else, a storyteller’s house… So there I have made my writing bed. With flowers in the window – these a gift for our 46th wedding anniversary last weekend – and with [my wife] Clare sitting at the computer, trying to make sense of my scribbly script as she types it up, it has become a perfect writer’s hideaway.

The stark negative space that makes up Dickinson's writing room and bedroom is a strong reflection of her writing. The poet confined herself to the very small writing desk in the corner to complete much of her work.

Sebastian Faulks’ writing space isn’t a bedroom, but it still has all the personality of an author’s inspirational haven. Faulks wrote one of my personal favorite works, Engleby, here, as well as Devil May Care and A Week in December. The walls are pegged with pictures of three of his idols, Tolstoy, Orwell, and Dickens.

I admit that the decor – if that’s not too strong a word – is the subject of some hilarity to female interviewers… The desk belonged to a furniture dealer called Simon Horn. It’s too low to get my knees under, so the middle drawer has gone and the legs are propped up by copies of Charlotte Gray in Danish… I inherited the curtains from the previous owner… I don’t care what it looks like, only how it works.

Victor Hugo's Parisian bedroom was rich, opulent, and completely evocative of the Romanticism movement.

More photographs of writers’ bedrooms, including those of Faulkner, Capote, and Woolf, can be found here. Personally, I like the parallelism the idea of writing in bed offers; while I curl up under the sheets with a great book, it’s pleasing to think that  its author might have begun the story in much the same way. Hmm, I wonder if any of them write in the bathtub, too?