A room of my own – Katie Agnew

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By Katie Agnew

When I embarked on my first novel, fifteen years ago now (OMG, where did those years go????!), I was in my twenties, child-free and full of pure, uncomplicated passion, drive and enthusiasm. I had a very busy job as feature editor of Marie Claire magazine at the time, and although finding space and time to write was difficult, I had the luxury of youth and exuberance on my side. Anything felt possible, sleep deprivation didn’t faze me, and the dream of seeing my own little story on the shelves of book shops made me hungry to succeed.♥

I wrote late into the night. I wrote all weekend. I wrote constantly in my head – in the Tube, in Topshop, in the pubs of Camden Town and as I walked the dog on Hampstead Heath. I wrote endless notes on yellow post-its which were stuck all over my desk at work, the fridge of my flat, inside books, magazines, handbags, on the dashboard of my car and even on the bathroom mirror. This is how ‘notes’ worked before you could email them to yourself on your iPhone!

Finding space to write in my tiny one bedroom flat was never easy. There was no room for a desk. But I did have an enormous, squishy dark green velvet sofa at the time, and a bright blue Apple laptop (like Carrie’s in Sex and the City – wow, how I thought I’d made it!), and although it can’t have been good for my back, I wrote most of the book curled up in a ball on that sofa, juggling my laptop with a mug of instant coffee and an overly enthusiastic Jack Russell. No matter where I was, the moment I switched off from my day job, I found I could lose myself in the new world I had created in my head. And the most amazing thing about writing a book is that once you’ve begun to create the characters and the dramas in their lives, they come alive and they live in your mind, and you can no more ignore them than you can ignore your own family!

I was lucky. My first book was successful enough that I could leave my job, leave London and start a new life as an author in Bath. At exactly the same time, I also became a mother. I always thought that eventually the day would come when I would have the perfect work space to write – a room of my own with a sea view, a lockable door and shelves lined with all my beloved books, ordered alphabetically, chronologically, by genre, or better still, by the colour of their spines (shallower and yet more aesthetically pleasing). Or maybe one of those wooden home offices at the end of a very long garden, where my commute to work every day would be a gentle meander through fragrant roses. What I dreamed of was space – both physically and mentally – to just write.

I soon discovered that babies don’t respect work boundaries and although I now had a desk at least, it was usually littered with baby wipes and half-chewed rice cakes. I shared my ‘office’ (more of a half-heartedly converted undercroft) with the lawnmower and two mountain bikes. I wrote between breastfeeds and rocked my daughter, still sleeping in her car seat, with my foot as I typed, willing her not to wake up until I’d finished the chapter. A writer’s retreat it was not!

Over the years, one child turned into two, and by the time my son was four, to complicate matters further, I had become a single mother. I briefly tried to turn a glorified garden shed into a home office but it was too cold in winter, too damp when it rained, and in the summer my daughter turned in into her den where only members of the Hannah Montana fan club were allowed in to make loom bands. No authors allowed!

As the years passed, my dream of a writer’s idyl, that wonderful room of my own, slipped further and further from my grasp. My work space (and my head space) continued to shrink but somehow I kept writing. I still wrote for passion, and because I had so many characters and stories living in my head, desperate to get out and onto the page, but I also wrote to put food in my children’s mouths and a roof over their heads. I wrote with a different kind of hunger.

At one point we found ourselves ‘between’ homes and had to move in with my parents – one adult, two pensioners, two kids, two dogs, a cat, a hamster and most of our worldly possessions packed into cardboard boxes and IKEA bags, all sharing one tiny and already bulging bungalow. I literally had nowhere quiet to write. Not even an oversized green velvet sofa (which I’d sadly lost in the divorce).

I’ve never been able to do the ‘working on my laptop in an exclusive, independent little cafe I’ve stumbled upon’ thing. It looks so cool! I want to be that person! But unfortunately I can’t trust myself not to socialise. I’d befriend the waitress and the chef and the cleaner and the homeless guy outside and just chat all day while spending the mortgage money on extra shot lattes. So I wrote in the car. I’d find a street without residents parking, where (God forbid!) I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew, I’d push the seat back as far as it would go and I’d write until my laptop ran out of battery. It was so cold that November that sometimes ice would form inside the windscreen. But still I wrote.

When we did eventually move into our small and not-very-perfectly-formed new house, the builders moved in too. The teeny little box room that was to be my office became the dumping ground for tools and building materials while all the time and money had to be spent on essential rooms like the kitchen, and a working bathroom, and bedrooms for the kids. Even once the builders moved out (a year later!), my office became the final resting place of paperwork that has to be filed one day, and things to sell on eBay one day, and things I am going to car boot one day, and things I am going to put up in the attic one day, and piles of clothes I am going to actually put away in drawers one day…

And so, once again, I find myself writing on the sofa. Or in bed. Or at the kitchen table surrounded by the breakfast dishes. Or on one occasion, while on deadline for my latest novel, The Inheritance, kneeling at the coffee table, on a hard wooden floor, and staying there all night because I was so lost in my own plot that I didn’t even think to move somewhere more comfortable. I couldn’t walk the next day but it’s still my favourite section of the book!

I guess my point is this, that although it would be lovely to have the perfect, peaceful, solo writing space, where my creativity would never be interrupted by school runs, or dirty washing, or meal times or any of the stresses of the ‘real’ world, it’s not an excuse not to write. Because one of the most beautiful things about writing, like reading, is that you can do it anywhere. That is precisely the magic of fiction. All you need is your imagination and you can escape from it all – even if it’s only for an hour or two.

Having said that, I have not given up on my dream of a proper writer’s retreat. The minute the kids are off to uni, I’ve told them, I’m moving – ideally to the South of France – to get my sea view, where I’ll write at a proper desk in that room of my own. And in the meantime? I’m off upstairs to start sorting out that paperwork in the box room. Honestly…

Katie Agnew was born in Edinburgh and educated in Aberdeen and London. She worked as a journalist for Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Red and the Daily Mail before becoming features editor on Marie Claire. Her first novel, Drop Dead Gorgeous, won a WH SMITH Fresh Talent Award and were followed by Before We Were Thirty and Wives v Girlfriends. Katie lives in Bath with her family.


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