Stage 1 The Deeping Desk at the Pop-up Writer’s House
My daughter: What’s the point in you going somewhere to write when you can write at home?
My husband: Home isn’t a Georgian house!
The Essex Book Festival is a celebration of reading and writing that gets better every year, belying the accepted story that the county has no culture. This year, Metal Southend, a project to encourage the arts in the area, is running a variety of events alongside it. One of these was to offer two desks in quiet spaces in Chalkwell Hall, a gentleman’s house built in 1830, to anyone who wanted to write away from domestic distractions.
My daughter is right – there is electricity, a desk and a kettle at home. But there is also a never-ending pile of dirty dishes and laundry, and a cat who insists on sitting on my keyboard. My husband is right too – our house, pleasant though it is, doesn’t date back to before Victoria, and nor does is have views across the Thames Estuary. There is a third advantage – no cookie jar, so it was better for my waistline.
There is, however, a pop-up café downstairs, cheerful, friendly and excellent value, and I enjoyed a lovely, gooey slice of brownie after lunch. Scratch that about the waistline. Perhaps my trip up and down the gorgeous sweeping staircase worked it off.
The Deeping Desk is named after a Southend writer. Yes, they exist. He was successful in his days, and a pile of his books sat artistically on my desk. The attractive Pan edition that caught my eye had the Amazon invoice in it, showing the pile had probably been sourced specially for the festival.
I may see if there are any more copies left at the online store. Warwick Deeping is celebrated in Southend with an underpass named after him, now blocked off due to traffic changes. Maybe I don’t want to be famous locally after all. The other desk is named after Margaret Cavendish, born in Essex, a colourful writer of the seventeenth century, when for a woman to sell a book was as bad as selling her body. Unabashed, she wrote plays, fiction and essays, a range that ran from breathy pulp romance to serious science. As a trained literacy tutor I’m intrigued that she declared that “it is against nature for a women to spell right.”
Yes, I did write. I didn’t manage to clear my backlog of scenes I need to insert into my novel before making yet another attempt to finish draft two. But I did break into it enough to feel I was back into the swing of writing again. Having generous amount of space round me was liberating, too; the view over the railway line and estuary, with the Isle of Grain looming on the far shore, was pleasant but not particularly distracting. But when the light faded and I packed my bag the mud turned a silky grey and the windows of the soul-eating sixties high-rises flashed gold from the setting sun.