June, moon, boon, loon. Much better month than May, dontcha think? Aren’t you actually sort of glad I skipped that nasty old month?
Besides, every recent monthly issue of this little circus has contained eighteen columns, six more than the twelve I write every month, so I’m really only a half a month late, right? Furthermore, at this rate, sooner or later I’m going to catch up with myself and disappear into some sort of ink-stained singularity unless I take a month off every so often. So I’m actually doing y’all a favor by goofing off. If this seems a bit confusing, you’re probably better off subscribing to TWD-by-Email, which will ensure the prompt arrival of my deathless prose in your e-mailbox every two weeks like clockwork. And by subscribing you’ll also be helping to pay the hosting bills of this site and buy food for the kitties. You do like cats, don’t you? They like you. Several of them mentioned you just today.
[Note: I wasn't really goofing off. Warm weather makes my ms much worse, and my energy level has been in the negative numbers lately.]
By the way, if you have problems reading actual content on the web (as opposed to, for instance, spending all day browsing LOLcats, like some people I could mention), check out Readability. It’s a browser bookmarklet that transforms the typical cacophony of type and ads on a page into one eminently readable column of nice, simple type. I have problems with my vision from the ms, and it has saved my sanity many times. If you just want to see the page as is, but with type large enough to read without messing with magnification settings every time you go to a site, NoSquint (an add-on for Firefox) is the ticket.
Onward. Three cheers for the Guardian’s “writer’s room” series, in which scribblers you’ve often only vaguely heard of describe their lairs and the intimidating tsochkes to be found therein. For example:
It’s the spur of a barn, and only three years ago stars shone between the pantiles while the floor was ankle-deep in guano. I love the light and long views on three sides. Who says Norfolk is flat? True, the room’s often chilly, but warmth addles my brains.
I’ve painted a primrose frame round the little window, and write by hand at the table in front of it. The chair was made by John Makepeace.
The bookends are stacks of my Scandinavian editions to bring me good luck, because I’m just beginning a novel about a Viking girl en route to Byzantium. On the window ledge stands the upended incense-burner my grandfather brought back from pre-revolutionary Russia.
On top of the shelf containing my essential reference books is an Anglo-Saxon burial urn and a lustrous Roman perfume bottle – both from my childhood museum in the Chilterns. And there’s an unholy mix on the small table: a pre-Columbian dog, a Nelson-era snuff-box and a cobalt pot thrown by Mark Walford.
I bought my desk when I was 22 with the advance on my first book, and that’s where I do my admin. The kneehole isn’t really large enough, but I jam myself into it. There’s a photograph of my daughters Eleanor and Oenone on the desk, and in the corner an 18th-century embroidered double-hemisphere map. Muscovy, Eastern Tartary, Caffreria, Negroland … everything in the study either relates directly to my work or is rich in personal association. Nothing’s here by accident.
Hey, what a coinkydink! — nothing’s in my office by accident either, unless you count the 27 cats. While we wait for London to call, here’s a sneak peak:
It’s on the second floor of our 1860s farmhouse in Fairfield County, Ohio, where we grow apples, pears, peaches, corn, carrots, lettuce, spinach, blackberries, cherries and concord grapes, all of which are eaten by various ungrateful animals every year before we get a chance to taste them.
The window behind my writing table looks out on a vast field stretching to the horizon, containing only corn, coyotes, and the occasional wandering meth-head in search of anhydrous ammonia. Sometimes I see things on fire from my window, mostly houses because incinerating one’s own home is a popular pastime around here. The precursor to the house with the red roof about a mile away over there, for instance, burned down last year due to an overloaded insurance policy. Unfortunately, the owner had stored so much ammunition in the closets that the Fire Department had to wait a ways down the road for an hour while the rounds “cooked off.” Fortunately, it was all fairly small-caliber stuff and we were well out of range.
In the corner of my office is a schoolteacher’s desk from the 1920s which I bought in 1969 for five bucks at a thrift store in Chillicothe and have been dragging around the world for 40 years. The tooth marks on the front edge there are a souvenir of Trevor, a foul-tempered Shetland pony I bought from some gypsies and kept in my rooms at Oxford. Eventually the college administrators noticed that neither Trevor nor I were actually enrolled, whereupon Trevor, Oxford and I parted ways. I haven’t been able to get the drawer on that desk open since 1976, and I fear that whatever’s in there is now even more illegal than it was back then. But I can’t actually sit at the desk anyway because I put a kitty-litter pan in the kneehole in a futile attempt to teach the cats proper office decorum.
The bookcases over to the left there are actually perfectly plumb — it’s the floor that tilts. Yes, it’s very disturbing, as if the whole house were sinking, which it is, but I try to avoid thinking about it. Atop the bookcase you’ll notice my collection of plastic lobsters, the legacy of an ill-advised vacation many years ago in Maine. Apparently the primitive tribes there worship the damn things, but you couldn’t pay me to eat one. The gargoyles were acquired during my Dark Period in the early 1990s, when I listened to nothing but requiems and lay prostrate on the settee all day, weeping bitterly.
On the shelves are books that people send me, mostly the folks at Oxford University Press, who got confused a few years ago and input my name into their database three or four times, so now I get multiple copies of every flipping book they publish. Lately someone over there has apparently sold my name(s) to Random House, because I received three copies of P. O’C.’s latest book last month and there are probably more in the mail as we speak. No, I haven’t read it, but I enjoyed the cover(s). Over there on the lower shelves are stacks of my own books (the barn being full), which I buy because it makes my agent happy. But lately I’ve been thinking my money would be better spent on ammunition.
Of course it’s true. Most of it, anyway.
And now, on with the show….