My Studio: Joanna Lilley

To be a real writer, surely you need a study.

A room that’s just yours where you can leave your notes on the desk or on the floor or walls or indeed wherever you like and no one will tidy them away. As a teenager, I read Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, and dreamed of one day having a study with a large, wooden desk with secret compartments, a window with a view, an armchair for reading in and of course bookshelves full of books. All to myself.

Yet in all the homes I’ve had, I’ve never had a study or a room that was for writing and nothing else. Somehow, I don’t seem to have minded sharing the room with a spare bed or a piano or a couple of bicycles. I’ve also always shared a desk with my musician husband. It’s “the” desk rather than “my” desk and I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that there are only two of us, plus Pepper the dog, in our open concept log home that I love so much. I don’t seem to need to fence off a part of the house and build myself a gate through which I must go in order to be a writer. And the other reason? Well, a confession: I don’t actually spend a great deal of time sitting at the desk. I wish I did but I have repetitive strain injury in my wrists and even though I’ve been living in my house for 13 years I haven’t yet managed to set up the right sort of desk and chair so my arms slope at the correct angle to avoid aches and pains.

So where do I write if not at the desk? On weekend mornings, when I’m not working in my full-time day-job, I wake up and slide my laptop onto the bed and write in a delicious half-asleep state for as long as I can before I feel guilty. Or sometimes I might sit at the dining table under the wooden vaulted ceiling.

But mostly, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, I write on the couch in the large open living space upstairs. Arms angled very comfortably down to my laptop, although likely a position that’s terrible for my back. From the couch, I can see the warm sunlight on the birches, aspens and pines on the front lawn as well as the cooler light on the aspens and spruces at the back of the house. I can count the knots in the high ceiling and I can marvel at the two pine tree trunks in the middle of the floor, their circumferences far broader than the slender spruce trunks outside.

But sometimes I do sit at the desk and when I do I look at the stones I’ve placed on the window sill and the cards and postcards I’ve fastened to the pinboard and I think about what I’ll hide away in those secret compartments when I one day get that large, wooden desk. 

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Joanna's latest collection is Endlingspoems about extinction.

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