What's your commute like? Mine's not so bad. Out the back door, across the deck, down the steps, skip across the lawn on the railway sleeper stepping stones and I'm there.
My name is Julia Crouch and I am a shed worker.
About ten years ago, I was running a very busy graphic design/illustration business from one end of the attic bedroom I share with my actor husband. When he was home from tour he tended to work there too, writing plays in our bed at the other end. With three kids crammed into our tiny terraced house, there was nowhere else for us to go.
But our bedroom was hardly a sanctuary from our busy lives. Instead it was a major part of it all. I had two desks in it (one for computer and gear, the other for dirty work - paint/pencil/charcoal/collage), an A3 printer and a giant plan chest. Every available surface was taken up with bits of paper, books and various other sorts of equipment. And then, from time to time, Tim was there, too, with all his work stuff as well.
Something had to give.
So, when I had a particularly good year, I decided to invest some of my profits in building a garden studio. I bought it from a company that specialises in what they call 'huts'. All we had to do was make a level concrete base and run out the electrics and, within a couple of days, the prefabricated office was up and standing, ready for me to move all my gear out of the house and down to the bottom of our small garden.
With this quiet, leafy retreat, I found that not only had I bought myself actual space, I had also secured a place where my imagination could grow and flourish. Having been with my husband since we were at university, it was the first time since childhood that I had had a room all to myself. I furnished it exactly as I wanted, filling it only with things I wanted to be there. It was, quite literally, a room of my own, kept as tidy or as messy as I feel like, removed from the domestic pressures and distractions of the house and children, yet close enough to be present in case of disaster or need.
It was precisely because of all this physical and mental space that, about six years ago, I started to write in earnest. I'd do my money-earning work, then, every day, I'd stay down in the shed and work for an hour or so on short stories and, later, my novels.
When I got my book deal with Headline, I happily and quickly gave up the day job, then instantly set about reconfiguring my shed. The plan chest was exchanged with an artist friend for a woodcut and the dirty work table went off to Freecycle. The liberated space now houses a cushion-covered day bed. This is where I read and dream stuff up, although I generally have to write at my desk in my fancy back-friendly chair.
I've got some great wireless speakers down here now, so I can fill the space with the background music I've found helps the words out like nothing else. The walls around my desk are decorated with a mixture of artworks and ephemera relating to my current work in progress – currently lots of Greek stuff, because my fourth novel is partly set on the island of Ikaria. And behind me there is a whole wall of books – novels to be read, research items, reference books and writing books.
I do about eighty per cent of my writing down here now. Although I have a heater and the shed is well insulated, sometimes, when the weather is really freezing, I prefer to curl up in front of the living room woodburner to work. Other times I need a change of scene just to chivvy things along, so I go out and work in one of the many great little cafés we have here in Brighton. But, on a day like this, when the sun is bright, and the birds are doing their spring thing, there's nowhere better. I have the doors and windows open, paperweights holding everything down against the breeze, my two cats sleep in a spot of sunlight on the day bed, and Nick Cave sings God is in the House on the speakers.
What more can a writer girl want, really?