It seems that a surprisingly large proportion of authors prefer to work in a quiet bolt-hole out in the garden. Perhaps there they can let their creative juices flow away from the distractions they’d otherwise encounter in the main home or in a traditional office space. Not even a phone for many, and certainly no spouse, kids or visitors to disturb them. Perhaps this, together with the peace and tranquility which the garden lends, is the secret to their success …
The Surrey novelist Louis de Bernières of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin fame is one of the many famous writers who do all their creating in the solitude of a garden shed, log cabin or other similar timber-framed outbuilding out in the garden.
While this seems to be a predominantly male thing (see below), one exception comes in the form of Jilly Cooper OBE, who is most famously known for her Rutshire Chronicles. She does seem to be one of only a minority of female authors who prefer to create in a garden studio, shed or outbuilding (Cooper’s is actually a converted barn although she calls it The Gazebo).
George Bernard Shaw, who is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature and an Oscar, was another famous “garden shed” author. However his was a rather grand affair which even included a bed mounted on a turntable so that it could be turned to any angle so as to make best use of the light.
Another very upmarket garden outbuilding was used by Charles Dickens in his Gad’s Hill Place garden in Kent. It was built in the style of a two storey Swiss Chalet which even included an ornate veranda at which he could often be seen pacing whilst deep in creative thought. Shown left is an etching of the interior where you can see Dickens’ desk and empty chair.
Roald Dahl is probably one of the most famous of all the garden writers. I knew his grown-up niece and recall discussing with her “Uncle Roald’s” brick built garden building which had recently featured on the television. It’s amazing to think of all the creativity which came out of that one small and humble space. Ophelia Dahl, his daughter, talked of the ‘mercurial atmosphere’ and ‘sense of an inventing room or laboratory’ inside. Less famously, Dahl also had a gipsy wagon when he lived at Gipsy Cottage in Great Missenden. It was in that gipsy wagon that he wrote Danny, the Champion of the World in 1975.
Other writers who have all produced their material whilst working in a garden building, studio or office of some kind include Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Jeffrey Archer, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) although Laurens van der Post (The Lost World of the Kalahari‘) preferred to walk to a disused coastguard’s look-out tower 5 minutes away from his home in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.