Famous writers’ sheds, in words and pictures

writing huts

Only the most prolific of passionate writers know how it is like to feel the words flow effortlessly from mind to matter, guided by the comfort of a spot they can claim as exclusively theirs, in all its sense of cosy belonginess fostered instantly, setting in motion the creative process not even the most fruitful exercises can. For it takes more than mere talent to create art- calling for instead a whole world of elements to sync together perfectly, producing a brilliant confluence of ideas and words and magic that translates in writing as a ceaselessly flowing universe of boundless wonders. So where did some of the most famous writers in history set about their motion of creative exercise, dishing out works of wordy elaborateness that render them legendary in all the extents of their imagination? Taking a look at some of the most stunning writers’ hut from which has stemmed incomparable dossiers of spellbindingly lucid imaginations-

Robert Stephen Hawker

Not among the most famous of writing huts that you would have hoped to encounter right at the outset is however a very quaint looking feature, that which is known as Hawker’s Hut. Built by the eccentric English poet Robert Stephen Hawker, this tiny space was where Hawker retreated to to pen down his poems and smoke his opium, taking in the views of the Atlantic Ocean as it revealed to him. Sometime around 1844, Robert Stephen Hawker built himself this shed on the cliff at Morwenstow, from salvaged shipwreck timbers, as a quaint structure jutting out from the hillside overlooking the vast ocean.

A small rectangular hut with a stable door with two hatches, the lower hatch closed to provide protection from the weather even as Hawker could still look out on a stunning view of the shore and the sky from the upper, the colloquially famous ‘The Hut’ however had also seen famous visitors embarking into its slate floored confines. Famous poet Alfred Tennyson and fellow clergyman Charles Kingsley walked into this turf roofed hut and sat on its fixed timber seats as they probably would have shared the pipe and stared out at the ocean, speculating perhaps in their own poetic language on the many philosophies of life and existence and such. Undoubtedly then, one of the most interesting writing huts ever would sure be this personal construction of Robert Stephen Hawker, who while might not be the most well known poet of his times, still would be a memorable one, in all his eccentricities as well.

Roald Dahl

One of the most loved authors of the modern times, whose weave of the words never fail to land one in an utopic world replete with charms and magic, Roald Dahl’s writing hut is as captivating as his numerous works of art, delivering upon premises equally charismatic and alluring. In the garden of the Dahl family home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire rests this small place of unending fancies, where the celebrated author set about work for 36 years of his life, each day devoting himself to the task of his passion, for a couple of hours every morning and afternoon, endearing therefore himself so much to this place of his life’s treasures that his affectionate referring to it as ‘my little nest, my womb’ just about sums up the magic this tiny haunt of his did to him, and therefore to the world in all his creative endeavours.

And indeed like the many worlds of imagination he managed to churn out, Roald Dahl’s own abode of fantasy was no less steeped in unique belongings. This ‘place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind’ where Dahl would let his imagination flow was also an intensely personal space for him. Surrounded with pictures, quotes and family photos, Dahl would sit down to write in his mother’s wing back chair, resting his legs on a log filled old suitcase, keeping everything close at hand, pencils and erasers and paper of course but also a flask of coffee, even as the working desk remained crowded with a host of intriguing items- a model Hurricane plane reminiscent of his times during the Second World War; his own hipbone, removed during an operation; a heavy metal ball, made from the Kitkat chocolate wrappings as well as an opal, sent by a boy in Australia as a present. An Anglepoise lamp carefully weighted with a golf-ball was what shone the light upon Roald Dahl- at just the right angle- as he went about delivering masterpieces, with iconic characters of Willy Wonka or James or Mr Fox or Danny, all of which he identified himself as, as he went about scribbling in this place otherwise inconsequential, but that which resided in a setting that felt ‘soft and silent and murky as a womb’. Equally seemingly inconsequential scatterings of dead leaves and dust and bits of paper as well as goat-droppings characterise this archaic world of bliss even today, with the polystyrene lined yellow walls and Dahl’s adored spiders and their webs standing the ravages of time, bringing to experience such a palpable feeling of Roald Dahl still seeking out its confines to scribble away all that his childlike innocence would bring to the imagination, to entice a whole world of readers well beyond and after his death.

George Bernard Shaw

For someone who had been the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, George Bernard Shaw’s creative genius extended also to his own unique writing hut. Nestled in the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, in Hertfordshire, where the writer resided in his namesake Shaw’s Hut, the six-square-metre wooden summerhouse stands on a rotating platform that enabled it to move in a manner that had the sun always shining down on it. Hiding from people because they bothered him, Shaw lend his curious hut another interesting dimension by naming it London so that people asking for him could be responded with a very honest sounding “Mr Shaw is in London” even when he is just there at the bottom of his garden, doing things that mattered the most to him, like writing of course.

And there have been other intriguing features about this ‘London Hut’ as well, as mentioned by biographer Michael Holroyd of the celebrated Irish playwright, “an electric heater, a typewriter, a bunk for Napoleonic naps and a telephone to the house which could be used for emergencies such as lunch: surely everything a writer could need.” But while Shaw’s famous rotating hut might seem to satiate yet another set of eccentricities of yet another celebrated writer, the reason why the hut was built atop the turning platform was based upon the healing effects that sunlight has for the human being.

Vita Sackville West

Imagine a writer’s hut nestled inside a tower so that the worlds she writes of in her works and the one she resides in all physicality are closely resembling enough to be two sides of the same coin! That coveted life was exactly what prolific English author, and garden designer, Vita Sackville-West managed to live within the Sissinghurst Castle, an epitome of classic bookish beauty that led her to refer to it as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’s castle with a vengeance’. A twin-turreted, Elizabethan tower inside the exquisitely pretty palace made for the realm where West would indulge in her ideas of the imaginary world, after gardening all day, and write away half of her nights for 32 long years.

So profound was the impact that Sissinghurst, and of course her exclusive personal, abode had on her writing that she even penned down a namesake love poem for the property. Still off limits in its access to visitors today is this writer’s haven straight out of a fairytale that sits intact in its every element, right from the battered oak writing table on which there are biros, paper clips, spectacles and soil samples to the carpet on the ground and the encompassing decor, everything is so embodying of the charm that Vita Sackville West encompassed in person. Also on display obviously are photographs of her two lovers, her husband Harold Nicholson and her famous friend and fellow author Virginia Woolf, making for a world of captivating contrasts that only the expanse of a writer’s imagination can generate.

Dylan Thomas

As a writer’s haunt that lent inspiration to the ever popular, magical shed of Roald Dahl, Dylan Thomas’ ‘word- splashed hut’ indeed is every bit extraordinary enough to entice all with its pretty sense of the literaries. A boating house held up by stilts on the cliff overlooking the Taf Estuary in Laugharne, Wales and offering views incredible enough to have Thomas pen out his classic poem ‘Over Sir John’s Hill’, this writing shed surely afforded the Welsh poet a solace that he perhaps had been silently seeking out throughout his life.

Housed above the Boat House that was gifted to him by Margaret Taylor and where he and his wife and three children lived in, Dylan Thomas’ writing abode was transformed from a garage housing Laugharne’s first motor car — a Wolseley, and stands still today, reconstructed though with the original elements still holding their place- fag ends, empty beer bottles and crumpled ‘manuscript pages’, even a handful of the boiled sweets he liked on his desk and lists of alliterative words lying by his pencil pot. So enigmatic had been the working of this ‘humble’ shed on Roald Dahl that he got himself built a version of his own in the exact same measurements of Thomas’ space, someone he called “the greatest poet of our time”.

Virginia Woolf

One of the most important modernist authors of the 20th century, Virginia Woolf’s writing shed perhaps would be an extension of her views that sum up the necessities of a writer, specifically a woman writer. For someone who believed that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” as she would write in her 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own, Woolf indeed did well to make sure that she had the prettiest room to her wherefrom would stem important pieces of articulation that would come to be so distinguished possessions of the literary world, particularly in their tones of ‘inspiring feminism’ but relevant even otherwise

Created from a repurposed tool shed under the branches of a chestnut tree at her rural retreat of the Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex, this really pretty structure straight out of the pages of some simplistic lore of beauty, very uncharacteristic of her style of writing, served Woolf well though, not just in being witness to numerous words of importance spun about in her typical flair of them, but also in nurturing her being as very often she would even sleep there on fine summer evenings. And indeed in the very vision of it, this tiny little place is quite a retreat to idle away days and nights in, holding a charm so commonplace yet so magical that had Woolf “commute” along the garden path to it with the “regularity of a stockbroker”. This quiet peace of her retreat however dawned on Woolf only when she shifted its initial position after a series of intense winters meant her writing activities was forced indoors, compounded by constant disturbance caused by her husband sorting apples or by the sound of church bells and the noise of children, forcing her to find refuge at the far end of the garden instead where she could escape the physical world and immerse in her imaginary one to rather good measure.

Mark Twain

The “greatest humorist the United States has produced” and the ‘father of American literature”, part the reason why Mark Twain perhaps attained such status in his writings had to do with his endeavours in what he called ‘the loveliest study you ever saw’. Built by his sister-in-law Susan Clare, not so much as a goodwill gesture as it was to have a chain smoker Twain him out of her house, this spectacular octagonal shed stood on a piece of land jutting out over the Chemung River in Elmira, New York. With a peaked roof topping the 12 feet across wooden structure, the study was designed to resemble a Mississippi steamboat pilot house. Spacious windows filled each face of the tiny home that could just about host a sofa, table, and some three or four chairs, and sat remotely 100 yards above the dwelling-house, offering unreal sights of retreating ranges of distant blue hills as well as the leagues of valleys and cities it overlooked.

More accessible today is the quaint little cottage as it sits now on the campus of Elmira College, intact with its brick fireplace and the ordinary writing desk wherefrom Twain gave birth to his many extraordinary ideas, making more apparent his enduring presence there by the picture of the man on the mantle. Indeed, as the place where the author penned some of his most memorable works like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court among others, this jaunt, a few distance away from Mark Twain’s in- laws, holds a grandeur that few in history has been able to emulate.