So far in this blog I’ve written a few articles on the process I use when I write, the aspects of writing that are important to me, and also how I avoid issues such as writers block. This time I want to discuss WHERE I write. This may seem strange topic, as everyone’s situation is different, and a where a writer lives should never be a hindrance to writing – after all, most of my writing is done from my South London flat which is hardly exceptional. However, sometimes London doesn’t provide the necessary inspiration, or the peace and tranquility to write my best work. It may be because I am approaching a particularly difficult section of a novel, or I just feel flat and not in the correct frame of mind. In these situations there is just one place for me to go, and that is my family’s cottage in Northumberland. Far from the nearest city or town, the cottage truly is isolated in the Cheviot Hills, alone on a hilltop miles from the nearest village with only a church and graveyard for company next door.
Many writers have somewhere special that they can go to when they write, it may be secluded like mine, or a favourite holiday destination, or even just a particular library or café they use. Each writer is different, but I would like to explain why this particular cottage in Northumberland is so special to me, and why it will always be the place I go to when I need an added boost of inspiration.
My cottage is old – very old. The sharp eyed amongst you may believe you can date the cottage by the 17th Century doorway and lower ground floor windows. However, you’d be wrong, because these were later additions to the building. Originally there were no windows on the ground level, an outline of a stone staircase and doorway are still visible at the back of the hours and this used to be the only entrance to the building. This design is consistent with that of a Peel tower, one of the many small fortresses that were necessary along the English-Scottish border, in order to repel invaders come to rustle each other’s sheep or cattle. In fact, old maps my grandfather researched, found evidence of a building on this site as far back as 1253, so the foundations of this place at the very least are of an age dating back many centuries.
The hostility between the Scots and English over the centuries cannot be over emphasised and the lawless nature of the borderlands are still shown in the out-buildings of the cottage in the form of arrow slits in order to keep their neighbours out. This also required the old house to have very thick walls, thick enough to repel a forced entry. These walls incidentally come in very handy keeping the ferocious Northumbrian wind at bay.
However, the problems for the inhabitants of this house in the past didn’t only come from the Scots. When England turned protestant in the 16th Century, the borderlands were slow to take up with the new faith, meaning that the catholic priests often had to hide from protestant soldiers that came looking for them. These hiding places came to be known as priest holes, and this cottage is full of them. There is one burrowed into the thick walls of the building….
and another secret room that originally could only be entered through the above secret tunnel, that you got to via climbing through the fireplace and up the chimney.
We also have plenty of family emblems, such as the family’s crest of my mother’s maiden name, Catto, which was that of the Scottish wild cat.
Plus some pictures of worthy Brooke’s and Catto’s from the past.
But as well as being a very historically significant house, it is also charming and lovely, somewhere to curl up in front of the fire when you want to take a break from writing.
But most inspiring of all, is the view. Every day waking up to see this – it can’t help but inspire you to write.
Even if you might need a companion to keep you safe from ghosts from the graveyard next door…