Where Writers Write – Julian Barnes


Julian Barnes at his desk in North London.

“I have worked in this room for 30 years. It is on the first floor, overlooking the tops of two prunus trees, which flower before they leaf, so that in a lucky year there can be both snow and pink blossoms on bare branches. The room itself has always been painted the same color, a bright, almost Chinese, yellow, giving the effect of sunlight even on the darkest day.

I began working here on a small desk with a table set at right angles to it; then I had a desk built to cover the same floor plan but with the triangular hole filled in; later, I had it expanded to take a computer and more drawers, so that it is now almost horseshoe in shape. My old (and late) friend the novelist Brian Moore once spent a fortnight working here, and remarked afterwards that it made him feel like a TV newscaster: he kept expecting, when he turned, to see a female colleague at his elbow waiting to take up the next news story.

I use the computer for e-mail and shopping; the I.B.M. 196c — 30 years old itself — for writing (or rather, second drafting: nowadays I generally first draft by hand). It is getting increasingly difficult to find ribbons and lift-off tape, but I shall use the machine until it drops. It hums quietly, as if urging me on — whereas the computer is inert, silent, indifferent.

The room is usually very untidy: like many writers, I aspire to be a clean-desk person, but admit the daily reality is very dirty. So I have to walk carefully as I enter my study; but am always happy to be here.”

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