Historical posts, Writing Tips
Comments 12

Somewhere to write…

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…





  1. LO Tom,
    Looks interesting, the Northumbrian dwelling. Beware of reevers! Any Armstrongs around in the area, aside from Alexander? (Can’t be far from the Wall or Kielder Water). The masonry looks nice and heavy, enough to keep out the draught anyway. (I’m jealous, I’ve got the dining room table to write on. Still, FENMAN is coming along nicely)..
    Had an e-mail from Graham Clews. Apparently he’s read RAVENFEAST (I’d contacted him with a view to meeting in York, overlooking the fact that he’s in Canada most of the time).
    Alan R L. .


    • Hi Alan,
      Great news that you’re meeting up with Graham Clews, so pleased that this website helped two historians meet! I am sure you’ll have a great time in York if he ever makes it over.
      Yes, plenty of Armstrongs in the area, and Charltons. The Wall is close, and I love to visit it. Kielder is a bit further out.


      • Well Tom, I meant to say he would have been pleased to meet in York but for over-wintering in Arizona.
        Did you see the “Who do you think you are?” that featured Alexander Armstrong? The bottom line of that was that – in common with Matthew Pinsent – his line went back to William fitzRobert, aka ‘The Conqueror’. I wonder if all the Armstrongs are entitled go about with his coat of arms on their briefcases?
        Enjoy your writing. Keep cosy in front of that roaring fire.


      • Hi Alan, No, I never saw that episode, but I think I remember hearing about it. Incredible that his line went back that far, truely incredible.


  2. Joy Birney says

    Dear Tom

    So much fascinating stuff I never knew about Corsenside. You must show me the priest holes before I am too old and creaky (I’ve taken up exercising again) to climb up them!

    Love Joy

    Short note from my iPad


  3. Hi Tom,
    Looks like an amazingly inspirational place, such history and very atmospheric! It’s very important to me to have a space to write too and I am lucky enough to have a summer and winter place (albeit they are about 20 metres apart!). I think Virginia Woolf and Roald Dahl’s writing rooms are at fault for one of mine.

    I love the photos of the buildings and surrounding countryside, stunning!

    My over-active imagination noticed that the flames in the fire are of a similar shape to that of a cat, sat still, ears pricked, tail tucked…I feel inspiration for another novel coming.

    Best wishes,
    ps. Shades of Time is now on Kindle – I managed it…with a little help!


    • Hi Sandra, that’s great news about the kindle version. I think you will do really well on the kindle version. If you want to promote this version on my site, you could write another post, maybe this time on the significant history of the period (or anything else you like) and we can add links at the end to your kindle version. Completely up to you, just let me know. Many thanks for your continued interest in my site 🙂


  4. That’s very kind, Tom, thank you. I will put something together about the Saxon period and send it over; it will be next week now though. I find your site inspirational; like the way it is set out and how it continues to discuss interesting, relevant topics to writers and lovers of history. Sandra


    • Thank you Sandra, I’m glad you appreciate the site. Its so good to receive such positive feedback.
      I really look forward to seeing your post on the Saxon period. No hurry, just when you can.


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