In any case, before buying your writer’s cabin you've decided to do some research. Your first port of call is Virginia Woolf's Lodge Writing Shed. The guidebook says it also served as a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Set. You imagine Mrs Dalloway's creator animatedly discussing aesthetics and communist ideology with E.M. Forster and John Maynard Keynes over a cream tea. 

Robert Stephen Hawker's Hut lives up to its quirky reputation; nothing less than you'd expect, having been constructed from the driftwood and timber of shipwrecks by an eccentric opium fiend.

George Bernard Shaw’s London Hut, you discover, is nowhere near London; he called it 'London' in order to satisfy three needs simultaneously: not wanting to be disturbed when writing, not wanting to offend visitors who wished to see him, and not wanting to ask his housekeeper to lie. If she told those who came to the house that George was in London, she would be telling the truth. The guide's anecdotes are very entertaining but the hut itself looks very ordinary - until, that is, you see it spinning around. The great man constructed it atop a turntable in order for him to follow the sun's path throughout the day. 

Over the next few months you visit several other writers' creative retreats. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut is the one that did it for you. Yes, that's exactly what I had in mind. However, except this one and, perhaps, a couple of others, on the whole you've found these creative abodes' exteriors to be disappointingly unprepossessing. Also, apart from the obvious, there's no discernible commonality; you now realise that all these refuges are as idiosyncratic as the writers they sheltered. How will a cursory examination of their exteriors help you to decide which kind of cabin to get? 

Looking at these shrines to literary greatness from the outside, the metaphor is obvious: you wonder if you'll be able to glean otherwise inaccessible flashes of their brilliant minds when you step inside. The religious connotation as you enter might not be entirely inappropriate; in a sense, a whole congregation of restless souls – who, like you, are harbouring creative ambitions – might actually be praying. You've suffered the agonizing frustrations of writers’ block and the debilitating masochism of self-perceived mediocrity. You need to pray and fantasize. Your ego, or inner driving force – whatever the difference may be – is compelling you to entertain the possibility of the improbable.

You're not stupid. You know that the serenity of an isolated pine shed could never be a panacea for every creative or stylistic dysfunction ailing you. However, you secretly convince yourself that you'd immediately notice the difference in your work if more conducive environmental conditions were met. Greater ergonomic harmony would open up cracks in the dam wall and, before you knew it, inspiration and talent would be flowing through your veins onto the page.

But wait a minute! What makes me think it's actually going to happen to ME? Surely if the four walls and roof of a poky shed were really a literary elixir, half the world’s writing wannabes would permanently be living in a nine-by-six-foot shack. But if it weren’t true, why did they all put up with such privations – the draughts and the leaks and so on – for months, years or even decades on end? When they got famous many of them had enough money to build the most sumptuous retreats after all. Why didn’t they? You would, if you had the money.      

There must be more to it than meets the cynical eye. It’s time to have a good old gander inside some of these places. As you turn Nietzsche’s, Freud's or Mahler’s door handle, you hope that however structurally, culturally or historically mediated the connection between you may be, you might – just might – discern some bond or common ground.

You take a few tentative steps inside, craning your neck to see into every nook and cranny, as though you are entering a Pharaoh’s tomb. You soon realise that whatever you're missing surely must be hidden in plain sight because the only thing you've created thus far is a greater sense of bafflement. Perhaps the interpretive complexity staring you in the face should persuade you to desist, but you look for meaning and symbolism anyway. That's why you've come.

Print   Email