Oct 21, 2009

Matthew Pearl's Writing Space

With my TLC Book Tour stop for Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens scheduled for Oct. 22, I wanted to provide Matthew with his own guest post date, since he was kind enough to include some photos of his writing space along with the description.

Readers, you are in for a real treat.

This is a timely topic since I'm renovating a house as we speak, so I've been forced to think about my writing space from scratch.

We purchased a home built in the 1840s. It needed updating, and for structural reasons we had to do a full gut renovation. On the top floor, away from the (future) hustle and bustle, there were two mirror image rooms, and we knew one would be a guest bedroom and the other my office. My first decision was to choose which I wanted as the office. I actually chose the one facing the street, rather than facing the back of the house. It's a quiet street and I know if I'm expecting a delivery of some kind I'd be much more productive being able to see it coming rather than constantly getting up to go to the front of the house and check.
Sometimes not seeing a distraction coming distracts me.

It's nice to have some natural light, so we've put in a new skylight in my future study. And there's a nice tree-scape, too, outside the window.

Writing The Last Dickens, I learned about Charles Dickens's working space. He had two different rooms on his estate that were dedicated offices, and he switched between them seasonally. In one, he wrote the final words on the first half of his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A few hours later, he collapsed and never regained consciousness. The circumstances of this gave me my starting point for my novel. Here is one of Dickens's working spaces from his era (the estate is now a high school):

I confess: I don't like working at a desk. I work on a couch or, Edith Wharton-like, in bed. I know that's not good for your sleep (because you then associate bed with work) or probably your carpal tunnels. I'm going to put a small sofa in the office, so I can either nap or work on it. I use the desk more to store and organize papers and folders.

The Last Dickens was written on the top floor we rented in the house below, the upper left window shown here was my office. This house was built in 1871, and my novel took place around 1870. Coincidence, but pretty neat! 

You always have certain knickknacks in your writing space that either inspire or comfort. Wherever my study is, one item always ends up on the wall. There's a story behind it. When I was writing my first draft of my first novel, The Dante Club, I hadn't told anyone about the project. Visiting my grandmother in Queens, New York, for lunch, before I left she stopped me. “I was just cleaning out the basement,” she said, “and found this I was going to throw away. It's a picture of the American presidents. Do you want it?”

Except it wasn't the American presidents. It was an elongated framed print of “Our American Poets.” With Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Emerson. The characters in The Dante Club, which nobody, including my grandmother, knew about! I took that as a sign I was meant to be writing my book. 

That's always hanging somewhere near my desk. 

Thanks, Matthew, for sharing with us your writing space.  Looks like he has his work cut out for him with that renovation.


Veens said...

Wow.. that was pretty Neat :)

I like the writing room/office! And that picture and the coincidences... it is like kismet!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've just been following this guy around the blogosphere reading his guest posts. Each are totally unique and very earnest. I think I know more about this author than most others, and I haven't even read his book yet!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I love this post! Pearl is so interesting, and I've been seeing him all over the place. Thanks for sharing this.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, that house is gorgeous! I love the photo of the poets too. Great guest post.

Ti said...

I like what he said about distractions. Not seeing them coming really IS a distraction!

I'm so taken with these guests posts that I have been following Matthew around the blogosphere. I'm enjoying all of them.

Anna said...

I love that house! I think it would be dangerous for me to but a sofa in my writing area. I'd definitely do more napping than writing. Looking forward to your review of the book!

Diary of an Eccentric

Suey said...


teabird said...

I love reading about writers' spaces! The picture of "the presidents" is a nice touch.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your space with is. Not seeing a distraction is a distraction for me too, although I've not thought of it quite that way before.

Serena said...

I love this guest post and I'm glad everyone is enjoying a look inside Matthew's writing space.