Virginia Woolf famously said that to write fiction you needed money and ‘a room of one’s own’. If you haven’t got much money, perhaps a ‘shed of one’s own’ would suffice?
Garden rooms, shepherd’s huts, gypsy caravans and even offices made out of shipping containers are all the rage these days – but writers have been escaping from the house, and working in huts of one type or another for at least 150 years.
From Thoreau to Gaiman, here’s some writing ‘shedspiration’ (and a turret room).
1. Thoreau’s Walden Pond Cabin
Henry David Thoreau might possibly be the one who started all this shed-love with his back-to-nature ideas. He built the hut at Walden Pond himself, living in it from July 1845 to September 1847 while writing the book Walden, which is credited as the inspiration for the conservation movement. You can visit his replica cabin near Lincoln, Massachusetts.
2. Mark Twain’s Octagonal Gazebo
When staying at his sister’s house in the country each summer, Mark Twain needed a quiet spot to write, so she kindly built him a large gazebo on her land. As you do.
“It is the loveliest study you ever saw…octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window…perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills.”
- Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874
The hut is now in the grounds of Elmira College, New York state, and can be visited during the summer months, or with an appointment at other times of the year.
3. George Bernard Shaw’s ‘London’ Shed
The Irish playwright followed the sun – not by decamping to a holiday home in Malaga, but with his ingenious rotating shed, which he could move around as the sun travelled across the sky. His shed, in the grounds of his house in Hertfordshire was apparently named ‘London’ – so that if people called asking where he was, servants could honestly reply, ‘He’s in London’. You can see it if you visit Shaw’s Corner which is now owned by the National Trust.
4. Virginia Woolf’s ‘Lodge Writing Shed’
Modernist author Virginia Woolf wrote parts of all her major novels from Mrs Dalloway onwards in this writing shed at Monk’s House, Sussex. The house itself was a key location for the Bloomsbury Group with visits from authors such as T.S Eliot, and E.M Forster. You can visit Monk’s House, picnic in the grounds, and even stay in an apartment there, like Woolf, drawing inspiration from the beautiful garden.
5. Vita Sackville West’s Tower.
Virginia Woolf’s gal pal, Vita Sackville West had the swankiest writing retreat of the lot – an Elizabethan Turret at Sissinghurst. Not really qualifying as a shed, it was still an escape from the house (or rather, castle).
You can visit the castle and famous gardens also now owned by the National Trust.
6. Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse
When not drinking himself to death, for the last four years of his life Dylan Thomas wrote in a Boathouse at Laugharne, Carmathenshire. Its remarkable views of four estuaries inspired such poems as ‘Over Sir John’s Hill’. In 2014 a portable replica of his shed, pulled on a trailer made a tour of England and Wales. See more about that here.
You can visit Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse and get refreshments of the tea and cake, rather than alcoholic variety at the Boathouse tea room.
7. Roald Dahl’s Fantasy Factory
Roald Dahl’s writing shed was in fact inspired by a visit to Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse in the 1950s. He made his way to his shed at the bottom of the garden, every day for more than thirty years.
“You become a different person, you are no longer an ordinary fellow who walks around and looks after his children and eats meals and does silly things, you go into a completely different world.
I personally draw all the curtains in the room, so that I don’t see out the window and put on a little light which shines on my board. Everything else in your life disappears and you look at your bit of paper and get completely lost in what you’re doing.”
The hut is now housed in the Solo Gallery of the The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.
8. Neil Gaiman’s Gazebo
Modern day writers have more to distract them. Official. They’re much less likely to have servants to help look after their domestic affairs, then there’s all that day time television to avoid watching, not to mention the ever present lure of the internet.
Author Neil Gaiman says,
“I love walking to the bottom of the garden, and settling down to write. Nothing ever happens down there. I can look out of the window and some wildlife will occasionally look back, but mostly it’s just trees, and they are only so interesting for so long, so I get back to writing, very happily… It’s just out of reach of the house Wifi, too, which is a good thing.”
I have visited Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse and it is quite solitary. I write in solitude – its easier
I also write in solitude-for me if it’s busy and noisy i end up looking my trail of thought. But sometimes I do watch everything that’s going on around me because sometimes it gives me great ideas that i use in scenes in my books