This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
As a specky, nerdy kid of seven or eight I had a fantasy. I would open a mysterious green baize door in the dingy school corridor and there would be a bright room with a stove, lined with books, a kettle on the boil, a comfy chair – where I could escape the bigger, louder, scary kids who seemed – inexplicably to me at the time – intent on pummeling me to a pulp.
I love my writing shed. It is that fantasy but better. There’s no internet, few distractions. Whenever I’m in here I want to write – and marvel at how lucky I am to be able to do for a job what I anyway prefer to anything else on earth.It was built for me by a friend called Bernie along with a team of young American college kids who’d come for a working holiday in France. I spent six broiling summer weeks rushing up and down the hill with pitchers of iced lemonade for fear that they would get sunstroke. Quite often I’d find Bernie with his head in his hands as the Americans danced up and down on the roof singing.
It is featherclad, perching on a hill so steep that Bernie gave up trying to find a level spot and instead balanced the whole structure on frail-looking pillar foundations of brick. It has long windows – scavenged from the dump – on two sides, so I can see the hills and also the river. I love watching the seasons change.
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The area where we live – in the Natural Regional Park of the High Languedoc – is like no other I can think of. February wakes with a flutter of almond blossom. Then the peach trees fleck with flower. Soon we’re dripping with cherry and apple blossom. The birds sing until the lazy days of summer when it’s too hot for them to open their beaks. Then I open the French windows and dangle my feet out over the hill, no longer daring to strike a match for fear of forest fire. One morning it is autumn. Coolness is back in the air and chestnuts lie like brown treasure on the paths (this area was too barren for wheat so people grew chestnuts to grind into flour). Winter will follow with its winds.
Sometimes in winter it’s scary writing down here – the world goes dark at five and outside roars the blind storm. The hollow walls are populated with rodents, trying to escape the cold. Stumbling up the steep muddy track back to the house my thoughts turn to monsters. Sometimes I forget my torch and have to find my path home by memory as the wind flusters like dragons passing overhead.
I’ve spent the night here, lying on the floor on an air mattress, watching the stove’s light die on the walls, amazed at the life my shed has of its own. Punctually at dusk the walls divulge mice who scrabble at the remains of my biscuits. Moths batter the window glass, crazed by the moon outside. And everywhere around are the outlandish shrieks of the countryside: is that an owl or a ghost? Or some creature’s death agony? Can that thundering really be the tiny river all the way down in the valley? You can never place all the sounds in a forest at night. No more could our ancestors – we have the myths and fairytales to prove it.
As the thunder rises and the lightning crashes, the shed physically shakes under the fist of the wind. You learn to respect the wind. This region is the windiest in France. The professional builder I consulted (and rejected in favour of Bernie and his amateur team) advised me against pillar foundations saying: ‘I’ve seen plenty of people try to put those in for themselves – and they’ve called me back later when their entire shed has been carried away.’
So I lie awake like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, wondering if the roof will blow off and carry me with it to some other realm.
By morning, all traces of my nocturnal adventures will be gone. The storm will have passed. My shed will be demurely waiting for me in the first sunlight of a winter’s day. My cold stove will invite me to light it, to brew up the first cup of tea of the morning. The stories that come by daylight will be less wild and inexplicable.
Saira's debut novel, The Mouseproof Kitchen, is out now.