Carol Rowntree Jones
Where I Write: ‘amongst piles of rich, unstable things’
Welcome to my untidy world, where I work amongst piles of rich, unstable things.
My work in general: I write, and I make books sometimes, for some of my words. I write poetry, short fiction, essays and non-fiction. I write because I need to secure something: my work explores what it is to suddenly wake up and how an awakened self can function in a civilised world and not lose the wakefulness. Not go back to the easy, the sleep-walking, the this-is-how-it-is.
I love it when my work fires and explodes into places I recognise as ‘home’, in a belonging, created, found sense. By this I mean a sentence or a phrase rather than a physical place.
I never make enough time to focus on my creative life. This is partly for fear of sitting down and disappointing myself, and also because of guilt that as a woman I should worry more about having a house to run. It’s also about simply the length of time. It’s about allowing myself the time to keep at it long enough to get to the place I didn’t know I was headed.
Saying that, sometimes my best work comes straight out, in a rush, so what do I know!
Routinely, I walk my disreputable dog every day. Mostly we walk down a lane between tall, elegant ash trees, pass through a small wood and then the path opens onto fields lined with hawthorn hedges. I can see the daily changes in the wheat, the hips and haws, the birdsong. The fizz in the hedges is the young birds calling.
Three minutes from my house in the other direction, I am in a sloping parkland field, with mature poplars, newly planted oaks and ornamental trees shielding the Hall from the footpath. Yesterday I went through the kissing gate, wondering where the cattle were and if I had to leg it to safety, to see a cow looking at me, matter dripping from her mouth. A new calf at her feet and she was eating the placenta. The calf already lifting its head. Two crows bounced around, a few feet away. I crossed the field higher up, to make it clear we were no threat to her and I was beside myself with excitement. I snook a few glances. She started to walk away – perhaps I was wrong, perhaps she didn’t have a new calf at all, was I mistaken? Then another look to see she had returned and was standing, stock-still as if to take another step, but with one foot raised, solid energy directed at the crows – Don’t you dare…
When I returned, the cow and calf were walking down the field to join the rest of the herd. I checked under the poplar, and there were the remains of the placenta, rich and pink, stretched, bubbled and drying around the edges.
Also in the field: two more calves; one hare running, a bolt of energy; buzzard mewing overhead. A way to start the day.
What else gets me writing? Conversation. See Dorothea Brande Becoming a Writer: “You will have to find … persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self confidence and eagerness to write.”
My paid work (which I love) is media relations for The National Forest. This calls for constant writing, but of a different nature to my creative work. Although surrounded by trees at work, these rarely seem to creep into my subconscious.
So, where I am geographically: I live in the southern-most tip of Nottinghamshire, a Midlands county bordering on the north. I live in a small village (about 1200 inhabitants) called Sutton Bonington, which, if anyone has ever heard of it, is generally because it houses an outpost of the University of Nottingham; go to Nottingham to study agriculture, food sciences or to be a vet and you will be based here. So for a tiny village it is welcoming, used to transient populations of staff and students, and the village school benefits from children of different nationalities, a bonus for the local families.
The room where I work is the garden room. It was part of a big extension we did before I started writing. I would probably have made more wall space for books and less window space if I had planned it as a writing room; it is probably as well I didn’t!
Major house redecoration is currently underway, so the room is half full of books and maps and stuff decanted from elsewhere. Decorating. Maintenance. Ongoing. So you don’t get to see that half. But I will get more shelves for my books out of the shake-up. Yay!
Fireplace: wood burning stove with wine bottles drunk with my daughter. One has a label congratulating me for winning a caption competition at the local organic farm. Strangely, that made me feel like a real writer! The cactus has been with me since I slept in an attic room on the last hill of the Cotswolds before you descend to Bath. It has been with me longer than most things in my life. Also heather from the North York Moors and pine cones from Corsica.
The table where I work is an old Utility furniture dining table that my parents would have bought shortly after the Second World War. It is made of oak and has two extending leaves. It has seen many family dinners of grey mashed potatoes and gorgeous rice puddings, and I used to play underneath it, balancing on the cross piece where my feet are currently resting, tunneling up through the dining chairs that had removable seats.
I use black Bic medium ballpoint pens; I generally write in hardback A4 notebooks: I try different sizes and styles every so often, but these are what I come back to. They feel utilitarian and fine.
I went on an Arvon course when I first started to write. Kathleen Jamie was one of the tutors and at our first one-to-one session she congratulated me for having a simple A5 exercise book – nothing too daunting, nothing that demanded beautiful work from the get-go.
In preparing for this piece for MIEL, I was thinking about where I used to work. At the front of the house we turned the original main bedroom (near the front door) into a study/guest room and I set up a snug corner to work in (see other pic). However, it would get taken over, and then the room got co-used. I do live in a house with other people, so that is to be expected! I can’t remember writing poems there, though. Until recently, I would still use my beloved old iMac in that space for emails and for business-related work. This summer it had a major implosion and it appears to be unrescue-able. [PLEA! If anyone knows anyone who can rebuild a ‘vintage’ iMac running OSX 10.3.9 please get in touch!]
When I was in my final year/s of my part time creative writing degree I moved into this space, so that I could leave my work out and get back to it more easily. First one extension leaf of the table was needed, then the other. They’ve stayed out ever since.
The summer I started to write I bought a sweet little blue desk on ebay, and had to travel to London to collect it. That day, I had lunch with my brother and it was our last real conversation.
The desk is in a corner of the bedroom, never written at; holding [up] a lot.
Okay, I’m outside now, because the garden room gets so hot on a hot day and today, 2/3rds through September, is baking.
I am now in the garden looking down at it ( see picture)
Where did I get to? My computer. I’m using a MacBook, (see earlier, re beloved iMac ) I don’t particularly enjoy using it to write on at the table, I get backache, but using it on my lap is much better. Ergo… yes, I know. We make so much effort at work to configure workstations correctly: it all seems to go out of the window with a laptop on a desk.
My mother, in North Yorkshire, has a small, oval, drop-leaf table, oak, with barley twist legs. I enjoy writing at that.
I acquired the space, and no one is complaining. It’s a beautiful room but I have to moor myself in it. The table set in the middle of the room makes me feel marooned sometimes, and it can feel like a goldfish bowl when people are around.
It feels kind of temporary; I want my writing to be more grounded, more ample, than I feel in the room.
An ideal space would bring together the love and delicacy of my blue desk, the snug workplace-feel of the study and the spaciousness and clean lines of the garden room – oh, and the comfort of the kitchen table as well! Not that I want a lot!