Martin Amis’s writing room. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
A couple of years ago, The Guardian ran a series that explored writers’ rooms. A photograph of the room was accompanied by three-hundred words or so from the featured author, describing their writing habits and habitat. The series proved enormously popular, and ran for quite some time. These visual and verbal snapshots are seductive in their apparent revelation of the private. They tantalise with their microcosmic divulgences. One feels that they know something intimate about the author, as we are, as if by personal invitation, permitted to gaze at the art on their walls, the books on their shelves, the discarded scrumpled pages in the bin under their hallowed desks.
Martin Amis’s writing room is an inner sanctum. A detached building at the end of the garden, ‘it’s ideal,’ he writes; ‘you can’t hear the children and you can smoke.’ It has a glass ceiling, covered with leaves and squirrels.’ (The accompanying photograph evidences the leaves.) On his desk he has a photograph of his mother. An opportunity for Amis, then, to talk of his love for his mother. But then ‘everyone in my generation got on with their mothers; I’m the only one I know who got on with their father.’ A snatch of biography is threaded into the narrative. He points to the little bottles of water dotted around the room. They are from his younger daughter - Cleo - who at the age of 5 ish brought them to him, declaring ‘Now you’ll never have to come into the house again.’ This endearing anecdote concludes the verbal portrait.
Andrew Motion also has a picture of his mother on his desk. This and an ancient blue-painted Indian figure (bought from Cawnpore years ago) are his ‘good luck charms; the presiding spirits of my mixed order and muddle.’ Underneath his desk is a Victorian writing box, given to him by his father when he was appointed laureate. When working, Motion rests his feet on it, imagining his father’s ‘good sense seeping through the soles of [his] shoes.’ The ex-poet laureate, then, is a Romantic. (Hardly a radical revelation for the biographer of Keats). Attached to the minutiae of his room is wistful sentiment, conjured significance. Somewhat different to Amis’s characteristic wry wit and minimalist syntax.
Antonia Fraser is another interesting case study. Her room is situated on the fourth floor of the house she has lived in since 1959, and was originally the nursery for all six of her children. Since her children have flown, she’s redecorated the room as she imagined ‘an old-fashioned country house bedroom, blue bows, chintz and roses.’ There is a white amaryllis (‘which I grew myself’), as well as ‘other necessary adjuncts to the scholar,’ which – in feminist-esque jest – she reveals to be ‘perfume (Miss Dior), nail polish (frosty pink),’ and ‘a scented candle (Manuel Canovas: Bois de Lune).’ Fraser’s writing space is a testament to womanhood.
Pithy though they are, then, the portrait of the artist’s room gives something of a portrait of the artist. But important to note, I think, a portrait of the artist as they would like you to see them. How true are they? Or, better put, how contrived are they? After all, given the opportunity, can one really trust an author not to fictionalise?!