Holing up in a room of one’s own

I’m very fortunate to have my very own office in which to work, because I can’t take distraction or noise. I admire people who can work in libraries or coffee shops, but for me those are places to do interviews, read newspapers, or pillage books as quickly as possible before retreating to my (well-lit) cave.

Currently, my little home office is taken over by piles of research for my book on northern aviation history. I have a stack from the Edmonton Public Library, the University of Alberta libraries, and the Alberta Aviation Museum. Then there’s another pile Joe McBryan of Buffalo Airways kindly lent me (that I would not have found through my usual research channels), and of highlighted and tabbed copies of The Roundel given to me by fellow researcher John Chalmers. My pile of archival documents is pretty thin, though, because through the magic of technology most of these (numbering in the 1000s) are stored digitally on my network drive.

My cat isn’t pleased I’ve taken over his chair with yet another pile, but you need to be a bit selfish as a writer. Sometimes you’re just absent-minded or immersed in your work. I was reading a lecture this morning Pierre Berton gave in 1994 as part of the Margaret Laurence Writers’ Trust series (published this year as A Writer’s Life). In it he says:

“I can hardly wait to get to the typewriter in the mornings. I like it so much. I really find it a marvellous vocation. It is hard on those around me. I’m very bad at parties if I’m working on a book, because I’m working on the book at the party, in my head, and I don’t hear what people say. I insult all sorts of close friends by my silence. It’s hard on my wife …because I hide myself in my office. I have to write, and I should be out, you know, gamboling with grandchildren on my knee…”

While he certainly had a public persona he could turn on when he wanted to, he once told everyone he was going to Mexico for an extended period. But he actually stayed home, disconnected the phone, and wrote the first draft of The National Dream.

I won’t pretend I’m off to Mexico, and won’t even go as far as blacking out my Facebook and Twitter accounts (yet), but don’t be surprised if phone calls go unanswered once in a while…


[Note: It’s hard to see in the first photo, but I’ve just bought myself an amazing neck-saving device – a book stand. This one can even handle Larry Milberry’s Air Transport in Canada volumes, so you know it’s sturdy! I would highly recommend it for anyone who does a lot of note-taking]

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