A Writing Space

There are some writers who claim they can write anywhere. All they need, they claim, is a clear space in which to put their notebook or laptop and they are off. A while back the Saturday Guardian had a a little section on writer’s rooms which included a photograph of part of the writing room with a short commentary on the contents of the room.

The rooms depicted varied and included attic rooms, garden sheds, rented office space and part of the living room. What seemed to be important was that each writer had a dedicated space in which to write and writing is what went on in that space. That, after all, was the purpose of the writing space.

I have always had a space for writing – usually a desk by a window. It was the writing area and the typewriter or desk top computer sat on it. When I wanted to write an article, lesson plan or a piece of fiction, I went over to my desk.

Then, two things happened which broke this routine. The first, was the purchase of an iPad. Now, the idea of the iPad is that it is super-portable. You can take it almost anywhere because it is small and relatively light. It also has an on-screen keyboard. This means, in theory, that you don’t need to attach a keyboard (though it is painful to type more than a few lines without one or without a stand for the iPad). IPad users can use their machines to produce text wherever they might be: on a bus, on a train, at an airport, yachting in the Caribbean. I have tried typing on the iPad in various places, including bed, and yes it works for a while. When I add a keyboard and prop the iPad up on my laptop tray it works better for me.

The second break to the writing in one place routine was the purchase of a laptop tray and a small laptop table from IKEA during the summer. The idea behind these purchases was that I would be more productive as I would be able to work from anywhere. As a result, I closed down my writing space (which is just a recess between the sofa and the window) in the belief that I could write just as well propped up in bed or sitting on the sofa.

It hasn’t really worked. I sold my large bulky iPad and got myself a mini iPad. This has improved my blogging and emailing since the iPad mini is lighter and, therefore, more portable than the original iPad. I am better able to use it to take photographs and videos while on the move, which is a huge advantage. The downside is that the screen is much smaller and therefore I now have to wear glasses to use it as a word processor. The plan to work on my new novel from the comfort of my bed before setting out to work every morning never came to fruition. I set the laptop up once and then decided I think much better when dressed.

So, this morning I moved all the furniture around and resurrected the writing nook. This is a much more comfortable place in which to work. I have natural light streaming in from one side and, in front of me, the maps and documents connected with the pieces I am working on. As well as being a calming area, it is also much more comfortable to work sitting upright at a proper desk and on a proper chair. I am already feeling much more productive.


My Writing Nook

My Writing Nook

“Riga 2014” project “Corner House. Case No. 1914/2014”

“One of the goals of the “Riga 2014” project “Corner House. Case No. 1914/2014” was to prompt a public debate about many problems in the history of the 20th century that have not been sufficiently discussed to this day: the consequences of totalitarianism, preservation of the memory of victims of totalitarian regimes, the importance of public debates and discussions in the contemporary political culture, and how the memories of Latvian residents about the history of Latvia in the 20th century should be preserved for the future generations.” (http://riga2014.org/eng/news/54437-a-discussion-about-the-future-of-the-corner-house-video-recording accessed 19/10/14)

The Corner House (Stūra māja) inRiga is so called because it sits on the corner of Stura Street and Freedom Street. During the Soviet Occupation of Latvia from 1940 to 1991 this was one of the most hated and feared buildings in the city. It was in this building that the KGB interrogated and, in some cases, shot Latvians for “crimes against the state.”

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the Independence of Latvia, the Corner House has been used by the police. For part of this year, the building as been taken over by the Museum of Occupations to mount an exhibition on the events which took place there and the people arrested by the Cheka.

Now, the question for historians and Latvians is what should the future of this building be. The debate held on 13/10/14 brought together many people from different organisations to discuss the topic and no doubt the discussion will be ongoing as the issue of how to record and memorialise the events of 1940 – 1991 continues across Europe.

It is 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell and Communism began to roll back across Europe and there has been enough distance for historians to be able to look back without stirring up old fears. Furthermore, there is now a generation grown up in the post-communist world who do not necessarily know about the recent history of Europe.

Recent events in Russian satellite states and the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin indicate that the Russian bear is not ready to lie down. The world needs reminding of what could happen should that bear escape it’s cage. The exhibitions in former Communist countries are helping to that but the atrocities committed by the KGB have not yet been fully documented and presented to the public. This exhibition has gone some way to filling the gap.

Flying High

An airport is no longer a place where airlines are docked. An airport isms place where you go for a shopping experience. A place where you have ceased to be a passenger or even a customer. For the airport owners you, once a traveller, is now merely a consumer. The parking of airplanes, is a function tacked on to the end of the shopping experience.

I have just tackled the new consumer shopping experience, previously known as London Stansted Airport. The purpose of my visit was to board a plane to Riga, Latvia. A Ryanair flight, if you are interested.

When I pass through Stansted on my way to somewhere that is not London, I am usually interested in three things. They are: finding the pub for breakfast, looking at an IT shop and boarding my flight. Pretty much in that order.

As I scooted through the airport I became aware that it no longer looked like an airport but resembled Selfridges done up for Christmas. BTW at the time of travelling and writing it is the middle of October. There were Christmas decorations galore, lots of gold coloured glittery things, smart looking sales assistants and, I am sure, a Christmas tree.

I can remember the days when travelling by airplane was an expensive and rare pleasure for the average person. Now we have cheap flights it seems airport companies are trying to return a little of that magic by turning airports into high end shopping malls.

The slightly surreal experience was added to by a couple of machine gun-toting policemen who were stood guard outside the security hall. Dressed in black they cradled their large black guns across their chests.

I was delighted to get to the end of the “shopping experience” and find an old bit of the airport – the gates.

At the other end of the scale, Riga Airport is a minimalist experience. Riga, is of course, part of what we used to call Continental Europe and subject to the same threats as the rest of us. When we got through passport control, we passengers were treated to a good sniff by a rather large police dog. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I hurried on out.

Background Research in Riga

It is autumn again, the heat has gone to be replaced by wind and rain making it the perfect time for me to venture abroad. I am off to Riga for a weekend of sightseeing and museum visiting.

My aims are to visit the KGB headquarters exhibition at The Corner House, to explore some of the architecture on the left bank of the river and to visit the Museum of Occupation. I was in Riga at the beginning of July but it was so hot I was barely able to stand going out, let alone touring round. On that occasion, I was only able to see the free part of the KGB exhibition. This time, I have found an online ticket vendor and have got a ticket for the whole exhibition.

I have quite an interest in the KGB and the horrors they inflicted on the populations of Eastern Europe during the Cold War, because of a book I wrote a couple of years ago. This book was set in Estonia and concerned the search of a young English girl for the people who shopped her grandfather to the KGB. He had to leave the country and leave behind his family, business and possessions. After his death, his granddaughter inherited the family home and went there to find out the truth. I am currently in the process of revising this book in the light of my greater understanding of events in the 1940s and 1950s.

In addition, I have also been preparing a series of short books for travellers taking advantage of the £19.99 seat offers from Ryanair. So far, I have covered Oslo, Tallinn and Riga (in part) with Oslo and Copenhagen to come. This has been proving quite an adventure and hopefully I will be able to produce a few books which will be useful, if not interesting, to others.

How a writing course helped improve my novel

Like many aspiring writers, I have been a member of writing groups and joined writing courses. Each, in their own way, have helped me to become a better writer.

The first writing course I attended was a one-day session on crime writing. I learnt a lot about structure, characterisations and plotting. There were also some tips on publication. I came away from this and looked at the plots of several novels to see how the authors put their books together. I learned about the importance of setting and pacing.

The second course I attended was over two semesters. From this, I learnt to critically appraise the work of others. We did a lot of work on point of view and structuring a story. We also had time to read aloud a piece we were working on and have it critically evaluated by the tutors and our peers. I learnt about tightening up my writing , looking for repetition and my own writing quirks.

I am now on my third writing course. On this course, the work in progress is the main element of the evening. Everyone has 25 minutes in which to present the section they are working on, talk about it, have it peer critiqued, critiqued by the tutor and then to respond to the critique. Everyone writes their comments on the draft and returns it. From this I have learnt what audience expectations are, that not everyone knows what a “cozy” is and that I really need to look at word order. I am overly fond of participles and sadly lacking in commas (and I thought I was the comma queen).

As a result of the last session, I have rewritten the plot of my latest novel to get some action in earlier and added more dialogue. I am looking forward to the next session where I present chapter two for evaluation.

My recommendation to all writers and aspiring writers is to find the course which is right for you and go on it. The benefits are enormous in terms of your writing, evaluation skills and social life. Lynn