I recently spent a few writing days with a visiting friend from university days. We got through our finals year by revising together, allowing ourselves 15 minutes of jigsaw puzzle assembly for every 45 minutes of bookwork – inventing the Pomodoro timed-writing technique before it was a thing. She is a professional author and is generous with sharing her years of experience. I was impressed by her IT setup and have tried to emulate it. Now, instead of hunching over the laptop keyboard fingering its touchpad and peering at its screen, I have raised the monitor on a frame and invested in a wireless keyboard and a physical mouse. Best of all, my new kneeling chair straightens my spine, whilst allowing me a comforting rocking whenever I need a bit of motion to edge the words from my brain.
The spare room, aka my study, is at the back of the house, so I can’t see the sea from here. That’s good; I won’t be so tempted to leave the workstation for a swim if the sun breaks out. I look out on the border of willows dividing us from the neighbouring fields, or else if I turn my setup 180 degrees round, I can look along the driveway and the road to see when the postie’s coming with still more second-hand books. In my peripheral vision is a warm palette of colour, a rainbow of significance. Covering the bed is the stripey blanket my grandmother crocheted for me in the early 1960s to use up the wool left over from her knitting. It’s a hug from this loving woman, now long gone.
And above this, dominating the room is my retirement present to myself: a watercolour painting by John Bellany, titled The Sea Maiden. Colours, patterns and symbols surround her, with the artist in a miniature self-portrait nestling under her chin. I can stare at it for hours, mulling over the meaning of the arrow, the bird feet, the candle. Under their combined gaze, stories will surely come.