Like a cross between the Guardian’s Writers’ rooms and MTV Cribs, our ‘Where I write’ series brings you up close and personal with the furniture of our authors’ lives to discover where – and how – the magic happens. In this episode, poet Gail McConnell takes us from a toy-strewn floor to a residential retreat and reveals the importance of not writing.
In a small black moleskin notebook. I like the ones with a grid of dots. When nothing else is coming you can join the dots together and make shapes. Otherwise, blank pages. I can’t be doing with lined notebooks. And I write in Word documents.
I write wherever it comes. The whole business of trying to write is a bit weird. I prefer not to notice when I’m doing it, at least at first. I’ve written some recent things in the room with the grey carpet you see here. Those are our toddler’s narwhals and a toppled toilet roll tower.
Some of the workspaces I’ve loved the most have been the ones I’ve found at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig: a residential workplace and residency programme for artists of all disciplines. It’s a beautiful big house, formerly the home of Sir William Tyrone Guthrie, the theatre director. Everyone gathers at a big table for dinner each evening. I’ve met so many interesting people there over the years. You have a bedroom with a desk and usually a beautiful view –wonderful spaces for reading and writing. And because the rooms are generally rather large, they make particularly good workspaces for ordering and editing books. I finished the first revised draft of The Sun is Open here a good few years ago. And I organised and structured the poems of Fothermather here a while later. As long as I have access to the OED online, I can probably work anywhere.
I like to try to write things early in the day. These days that means a couple of hours after our toddler wakes up on full power, and we wrestle him into clothes and habits of personal hygiene, encourage the consumption of porridge, apply a lot of E45, wrap him up in warm clothing, take him to childcare and return home. Somehow my brain still isn’t working on full power after that, even after two cups of coffee, so I like to write before I know exactly what I’m doing.
Something with serifs. Always. Georgia, Garamond, Baskerville. And Comic Sans when necessary.
Parenthood has changed everything. I used to write in bed a lot more than I do now. And I would get to my writing without all of the morning rituals listed above. I was going to say I’d get to my writing more quickly, but I’m not sure that’s true. I have to be more disciplined now. I aim for less time, but I try to make it count. Sometimes that means not writing. A lot of writing is not writing. It’s reading. Going for walks. Keeping yourself going and letting the unconscious do its thing so that something, sometime, can come along. And then you’ll be ready to work.