Welcome to my workspace!

This is me on a video conference.

Self portrait of the author looking thoughtful in a video conference call.

There have been a lot of these conferences the last few years, and this is the view of the place where I work that conference colleagues and friends get to see. My shelves of books and papers and in the window over my left shoulder, Tiffany Parrot flanked by two artists’ mannequins. They stand either side of her, presenting her to the room. You can just see the arm of the second one behind the net curtain.

But what does the rest of the room look like? Allow me to share the other view!

This is a collage of pictures of my desk, presented David Hockney style! Actually, no, strike that. It’s really not a lot like David Hockney’s photo-collages. But it is a photo-collage, and I may be kidding myself, but I think it makes the mess I work in look a bit more dramatically artistic.

This, as they say, is where the magic happens.

Collage of photos showing my working space.

Starting in the bottom left, we have the computer. It’s a gaming computer and I call it Little Moloch, partly because of the glowing stylized bull’s head on the front, partly because it’s a little smaller than its predecessor Behemoth, and I wanted to continue with the names of Biblical monsters. But mostly because of Terry Pratchett’s character Death of the Disc World. Death has a kitchen range called The Little Moloch and thinking of that still makes me smile.

Travelling from Little Moloch up in a clockwise direction, we have my pencil case, mouse and headphones. I use the pencil case to keep the headphone cable from tangling with the mouse cable. (I’m terribly conservative and have yet to give up on cables for most of my peripherals. On the other hand, they work more reliably than the Bluetooth peripherals I own, so I’ll stick with them till the tech improves.)

Oh yes, and I am right handed, but I taught myself to use the mouse with my left hand to save myself from repetitive strain injury.

I have two screens because … having four would just be showing off!

And, yes, I staged this for the photo so one screen is showing my website, TheSupercargo.com, in a Firefox browser, while the other shows PensAroundTheWorld.com in Chrome. Above the left-hand screen you can see my video camera. With which I took the video conference photo at the top of this.

Next to the headphones and below the left-hand screen is my Bullet Journal. I’ve been keeping a Bullet Journal for nearly three years now and I find myself appreciating it and refining it more and more.

The keyboard is a regular QWERTY keyboard, but with a Scandinavian layout. Using this layout has become second nature to me. I get lost on Anglo/American layouts nowadays. Where’s the question mark? And what’ve they done with the bloody exclamation mark! As for the Francophone layouts I came across when I lived in Brussels a few years ago, quelle horreur! Ils étaient frustrants au-delà de toute mesure!

Below the right-hand screen is my little oddities tray. Among other things, there’s the brass letter opener and pair of compasses that used to belong to my father-in-law. I so rarely need either – but when I do, there they are! Behind the little white pot of (picks it up and peers at it short-sightedly) Shea lip balm – a gift. Behind that there’s a cropped photo my wife took of me sitting on a bench in Sofia with two Bulgarian literati. It’s cropped in order to conceal how fat I look.

Next to that is a selfie-stick. It doubles as a tripod for the mobile phone. I’ve been trying to film myself recently. Not easy.

Above and behind the right-hand screen is my pinboard, covered with a reproduction of a 16th century map of Scandinavia and the North Sea, and away to the left of that are two postcards of Tudor era women. The lower one is Queen Elizabeth I, while the upper one is the disputed portrait of Helena Marchioness Northampton that hangs in the Tate Britain gallery in London. She is the principal p.o.v. character in my 10-years-in-the-writing-and-still-unfinished historical novel, The Long Way to London (working title).

Up above the pinboard, attached to the edge of the upper shelf, are a few family photos. The enlarged one is a snap of a painting on a wall in my sister’s home. It’s a portrait of our grandmother in her early 20s. Grandma used to work as an artist’s model. On this occasion the artist couldn’t afford to pay her, which she only found out after the sitting. He gave her the painting in lieu.

That’s one story, anyway. Another is that she usually sat naked, but on this occasion her period had come early, so the artist painted her “dressed as a gypsy”, just for practice, and gave her the picture afterwards.

The picture is signed, but we’ve never been able to identify the artist. (And, yes, my brother-in-law once took it along to the Antiques Roadshow, but even their experts were unable to help.)

The shelf below the map has a few knick-knacks. There’s my father-in-law’s hip flask, which I have been known to fill and take out with me at times. Next to that is a piece of desert rose sandstone my father brought back from North Africa. I sometime hold it in my hands and turn it over when I’m thinking about something. Next to that is a carved wooden goose from East Africa, and a card with a self-portrait of one of my literary heroes, Moomin-mamma Tove Jansson. She’s tucked behind a Swedish tomte (house gnome).

Below the shelf – and now we’re in the bottom right quadrant – almost concealed is my laser printer. In front of that is my pad with longhand notes, my pen, my not entirely reliable Bluetooth microphone in its charging case, and in front of that my mobile phone.

Yep, that’s my workspace!

And it’s all tucked away behind that folding screen because my wife thinks its a complete eyesore and needs to be concealed from the rest of the living-room.

Where do you work? And do you surround yourself with mementos? Or do you prefer a minimalist working environment?

If you liked this, you may also like Debbie’s post Learning to Just Do It. Or perhaps you prefer to get out and about when you are writing? Why not read Gail’s post on Walking and Writing.


  1. My workspace is nothing like John’s, it does verge on the minimalist. I have a large desk – my wife says too large – on the upstairs landing. The PC sits in a cradle underneath, but the top houses a mere single VDU, a 4-port hub, pens, a calculator and sundry items of stationery equipment..

    On the left is the router, atop which sits the master phone. The router is connected to the PC by cable, as I too don’t find wireless peripherals reliable in a house with thick stone walls. Using a cable actually cost me, when during a thunderstorm some years ago, a lightning strike annihilated the PC, mouse, KB and hub before spiking the router via the cable.

    There always seems to be a stack of papers to my left which I keep promising to sort but… There’s a filing cabinet below the LH side of the desk, home to innumerable bits of stationery and a stock of DVDs for backup. I don’t trust the Cloud one jot.

    The walls behind and to my left are decorated with posters of various cars and some memorabilia of a trip to the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018 to celebrate my 70th birthday.

    One essential item for winter is a fan heater, as there are no radiators on the landing.

    My workspace suffers frequent attacks from my cat Princess during her regular mad moments when she charges round the house. Cats don’t like computers. Her predecessor, Ginger, would climb on the desk and dance on the keyboard to gain attention.

    But this is where I have the occasional inspiration and even lightbulb moments. It’s home.

  2. You paint a nice picture, Nigel. I love the cat who danced on your keyboard!
    I don’t know why cats dislike computers, it’s been my experience too. (I’ve never owned a cat, but I’ve cat-sat for my brother-in-law.) You’d think something whirring and warm ought to remind them of mother, but maybe it’s just that a computer takes your attention from them. Cats do love to be centre stage.

    I commiserate on the lightening strike. We don’t get thunder storms as often as you, I think, though they roll in from the west towards the end of the summer. We’ve never had a serious lightening strike, and the buildings are fitted with lightening conductors, but we do go around and switch the electronics off when the rumbling starts up.

  3. My workspace is mobile, in that in summer it exists in the loft and in winter, it moves into one the B+B guest rooms. This prevents any build-up of clutter or memorobilia. Soon, it will move into a study in the new Spanish house, which will be a permanent space but during this coming stage of life, I will spending half my time in a motorhome, travelling, so my setup will still have to be 98% computer based, as it us now.
    A large desk sports two 17″ screens and two Mission bookshelf speakers. Music is important to me, and well-reproduced music essential (downstairs lurks audiophile kit, with a climate-destroying valve amplifier.)
    The computer is a micro, a box 5″ x 5″ x 2″, a powerful little beast all the same. Two input devices: mouse on the right and trackball on the left: like John, I have trained myself to use the left to spare the tendons on the right, and the trackball is excellent.
    The keyboard is AZERTY and while I could curse the fullstop on Shift, as much of my work is in French, it’s a necessary evil. I’m currently learning to touch-type, largely because I have a back injury and looking across at the screens is fine but down at the keyboard is not. The cahir is expensive, but otherwise conventional: I see John has some weird thing to sit on. I have a perch stool to one side which should be better for my back, but so far it’s not working.
    An A3 printer completes the office set-up, essential for my computer-aided-design work, currently handling the renovation of the Spanish house.
    Other kit includes a yoga mat and a gym ball, for the regular exercises I need to do, and for breaks from the chair. The other elemnt in back care is the second setup downstairs, by the wood-burner, the 13″ laptop on a special stand to present it at the right height when I sit in my easy chair, a keyboard on my lap and trackball on the chair arm. This gives my back a different envornment, and forms the basis of what will the working setup in the motorhome.
    Virtually everything I work on is on the cloud with local copy, Google Docs and Sheets being my usual software because it offers perfect synching between the two set-ups. With data backed up to a hard drive on the mini computer, copied on the two machines and on the cloud, I feel reasonably secure, but even so, I periodically take another copy on a 2Tb penstick and keep it in the garage a mile away with the classic car.
    I feel very much at home at my desk, a comfortable space where I can make things happen in the big, bad world.

    • The odd chair is a Håg Capisco ergonomic chair (from the same people who make saddle chairs). It works, up to a point. But I’ve had it too long without re-servicing it and I can’t raise or lower it any more. (I think it probably just needs a new compressed air canister in the pillar, but of course it’s not that easy to fit one. They want you to call out a technician, but I’ve got better things to spend my money on.)
      The desk is one of those you can raise to stand at, and I use that option now and again – especially when I have to work for an extended period on one job.
      Like you, Rachel, I also have a laptop to vary my working situation. I use it the bedroom or on the balcony, or carry it with me to a café now and again. But I write best without distractions, so the café option is more of an occasional summer event.
      I like music, but only when I’m making art or working on photos. When I’m writing I prefer silence, though white noise through headphones is an option I find.

  4. Lightening is just one of the typos Nigel corrected on my MS as a beta reader. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one to make this error. Sorry to be going off course in my comment. The whole writing space discussion is illuminating (pun intended).

    • Oh dear, oh dear! I see that now. Twice in the same response. I don’t suppose anyone at Pens would believe me if I said “I’m glad you caught my deliberate mistake”? (I used that line occasionally when I was teaching and the kids caught me misspelling words on the board. It didn’t work very often then either. )

  5. Oh, and on protection, I have an Uninterruptible Power Supply beneath my desk to keep things going when the power stops. EDF seems particularly clumsy in power switching: we often have power blips of a second, just enough to crash computers and routers. The UPS has 15 minutes of battery power.
    This morning I took delivery of a ‘parafoudre’, a component that goes in the consumer unit to block lightning strike from the house wiring. This is for the Spanish house, which I’m currently re-wiring.

  6. So that’s what’s in front of you when you’re looking at us in a Zoom meeting! Fascinating!
    Although I’ve published here pictures of a part of my writing room, it’s not the whole truth. And I’m not interested in sharing that at the moment. But for someone who is quite tidy in public spaces, I’m notoriously chaotic in my private study! It seems there are just too many “things” going on in my head and they spill out all over my two desks. No idea who wrote this, but according to a plaque in my study (translated from German): The idiot needs ORDER, the genius controls CHAOS. (Or something to that effect)

    • Is that quote Einstein? For me, I aspire to order but constantly find myself descending into chaos. And I don’t think that’s accidental, but a consequence of some profound scientific law Perhaps the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Everything tends towards entropy.

  7. I too have an ergonomic chair, bought for me by the company I worked for after I had three back operations in 18 months. I began to think I had a season ticket to the hospital. The company then gave me the chair. My secretary used to refer to it as my Captain Kirk chair!

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