Sunday, 20 January 2013

Want to see my writing desk? (Malachy Doyle)

I’ve always been fascinated by shots of writers’ and artists’ workspaces, so if you want a snoop at the desk of a picture book writer, here’s mine, at the end of a working day.

On the printer are two sculptures of me and my wife, Liz, made by our clever son, Liam, and given to us as Christmas presents.  He usually works on blood and gore for horror films, so it’s nice to see him making something pleasant for once (Liz, I mean, not me…).  Also a top shell picked up on one of my walks round the island where I live, and a gecko bought in Santiago at the end of my Camino back in November.

Next to the printer is a beautiful bronze hare, who’s watched over me for many moons as I write. Sitting at his feet is a little art deco rabbit. 

On my screensaver is a photo of the view from my window, over the water to Errigal - my mountain, my muse.  It was taken when there was snow on top - a rare but magical event.   Every afternoon I walk the beaches of my island with my dogs, but occasionally, if I've written something I'm really pleased with (or just need a dose of Errigal exhilaration, for whatever reason), I treat myself to a walk up the mountain. 

Next to the keyboard is a card drawn by my good friend (and illustrator of three of my books) Jac Jones.  ‘Peace beyond Christmas’ Jac’s written, in English and Welsh, and inside he credits the image as ‘copyright Jones and Picasso.’ 

On my desk (a massive old green-leather-topped lawyer’s desk – I love it!) is my Penguin  Rhyming Dictionary – an essential tool for any picture book writer who succumbs to the temptation to versify. 

On the sheet of paper next to the keyboard is a print-out of the last thing I’d written.  A little bit of fluff that maybe might sneak its way onto the back page of a future picture book:

This story was written with glee
By someone anonymous. Me!
My name I refuse to disclose.
Can you guess by my stupendous nose?   
 (I'm seeing an illustration here of a masked man with a mighty schnozz)

Oh no, I’ve just noticed – go on take a look –
It’s written right there at the front of the book!
(And the pictures are great, don’t you think?  Well, I do!
They’re by …..   ....., and they’re specially for you.)

Under the rhyming dictionary is a copy of The Snow Queen illustrated by Bernadette Watts.  I love both the story and the illustrations, but the real reason it’s on my desk is because it’s a hardback that’s big enough to carry round the house (and outside) with print-outs of my stories on.  For me to catch my story by surprise, reading it aloud in the shed, the garden, the toilet...  To give to Liz to read and comment on (with her big pink pen)...  It’s always this book.  It’s become a ritual, a totem, like my hare, my island, my mountain...

In the background some of my children’s books, including a shelf of foreign editions of ones I’ve written.   I particularly like when they come through in Korean! (This is Charlie is My Darling, by the way.)

I'm hoping some other Picture Book Denners might add to this posting, showing us their desk and maybe telling us a little about it - the more untidy the better!

And if anyone else would like to tell us about where they write, and what's around them as they do so, it'd be lovely to hear from you.   


Paeony Lewis said...

I adore this insight into your desk - it says so much. And wow, if the image on your screen is the stunning view from your desk of scenic Ireland then I'm in awe - that's the sort of view I go on holiday to see! From my desk I see the rear of city terraces and some garden greenery that is currently smothered in snow.
Ha ha, I too have my monitor perched on a hardback book.
Having read your post I'd also like to do a detailed desk blog at a future date - hope you don't mind and it won't be nearly so interesting (but it reflects me!).

Penny Dolan said...

As soon as I say "my desk" I had to read this post. I liked the explanations of what and why and where. Do we keep these "tokens" near us - especially those of family - to help us along through the solitary times of writing?

I also searched for some pictures of Errigal, as couldn't see your screen-saver. A mountain as a muse is such an amazing idea! Now wonder it works. Errigal is a perfect shape - almost like a child's drawing of a "pointy mountain".

malachy doyle said...

Thanks Paeony. Yes, I was lucky enough to be able to sort of design the study around the view. Someone, was it John Betjeman, found he had to brick up the window of his writing room, the view proving to be so distracting, but I just find it soothing.
The more desk blogs the better, I say! (Malachy)

malachy doyle said...

Sorry, Penny - yes, I was going to include a photo of my screensaver but ran out of time. Might do it when I get home, if I get a chance. And you're right - it's definitely a picture book mountain.

I used to keep a collage of photos from my childhood on the wall behind me, to help me connect with the four year old Malachy as I wrote, but I don't seem to need it any more.


Lovely article Malachy!

Lynne Garner said...

Grief all I have on my desk is a computer, scanner, printer, phone, piles of paper, glasses cases (seam to have four not sure why) and loads of book and files. Nothing personal to inspire ... perhaps that's something I should remedy.

Moira Butterfield said...

I rent an office along with other freelancers, so I work out of my home. I make it homely, though, with some homemade cushions and some items that sound a bit bizarre when written down...I have a little ganesh elephant god statue who sometimes gets given maltesers, a fairy wand,some vintage Ladybird books and mini plastic 'frustration' game board... and I have my 'pinboard of positivity'! It currently has various photos I like, quotes and a particularly inspiring photo of an old lady dressed as superwoman, flying her dog. Well, you did ask!

malachy doyle said...

I can't imagine sharing my writing space, Moira. The advantage, I suppose, is that it's like 'going to work' so you stick at it. I think we should be shown your desk, especially the malteser-eating elephant. Also like the pinboard of positivity. Maybe we should do a joint blog of our favourite quotes?

Moira Butterfield said...

Luckily I have my own room, so I don't have to share my maltesers. Today I'm stuck at home because of heavy snow, so I've set up in my University son's bedroom. I've got a rugby ball, a lava lamp and football trophy today! I tend to 'go to another place' in my head when working, so I haven't noticed them. I adore your bronze hare, which I think would inspire me, too.

Abie Longstaff said...

I like the idea of renting an office, Moira. I work in my study. It's fine while the children are at school, but the second they get home they come rushing in wanting snacks or a chat or something. It's lovely to see them but if I stopped work at 3.30 I'd never get enough done so I have a quick break then shut the door on the kids. I have to be quite strict sometimes - it makes me feel a bit mean.

Just like Malachy, I have bits and pieces around to inspire me; mainly a whole shelf of my favourite children's books to dip in and out of. Thanks for sharing your space, Malachy.

Flexible Office Spaces said...

Writers' desks are expected to have a lot of creative stuff. These items either resemble their interpretation of the things they are writing or simply an inspiration to keep them going. Great desks! So many interesting pieces.