Each week we’ll be inviting an author to share a peek at their writing space. This week it’s Zoe Brooks, author of Girl in the Glass.
I have two writing homes. One is a semi-restored farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where I write most of my novels, but I do also have a space at home in England, this one. This space is new, not even one year old. My husband suggested it, when I was moaning that I could only write when I was away from England. The reason for my inability to write was that I had no room of my own, as Virginia Woolf put it. My writing area was a corner of a cluttered small room at the back of the house, which I shared with the television and my son. I could not concentrate, I could not get up and pace around the room as is my wont when I am writing.
We moved to our current home from London, returning to the small Cotswold town where I had been born, to the very street where I had spent all but two years of my childhood, to the house which had belonged to my lovely aunt and which still smelled of her. The attic was full of her upholstery equipment and boxes of fabric bits. To the nine-year old son John it was the perfect bedroom: running the width of the house it was enormous compared to his London room. That its ceiling was low was at that time no problem: he had yet to have the growth spurt which would have him grazing his head on the ceiling. Most of all he loved the fact that it was away from the rest of the house, and from us. Now I too value its remoteness.
A year ago our son left home for a shared flat in London, vacating the sofa and leaving me alone in the back room apart from the television and my husband passing through on his way to his office. But still I found it hard to write there, I had been spoilt by the solitude and quiet of my Czech home. “Let’s think about what you need,” said my husband. “Now that John’s gone, you could use his old room.” We talked to John about it: he was a bit shocked when we told him we were clearing all his stuff out of his old bedroom, but he was supportive of my writing and recognised the need. John discarded much of his childhood, disposing of old toys, books, and bags of out-of-date clothes; and stripped his teenage posters from the walls. It was a major psychological statement: the bird had flown the nest. My primary role as a mother was over, my new role as the writer was well and truly begun.
While I was away in the Czech Republic writing, my husband set to transforming the attic room. With the help of our excellent local builder, part of the floor has been lowered, woodworm treated, the walls insulated, plasterboarded and painted. I returned with the first draft to a novel three quarters completed. The room was needed and it worked. The first draft was completed there. The room is furnished with a bed, a chair, a desk, and a revolving bookcase. There is nothing on the walls. I sit with my back to the window, through which you can look out at the nearest hill. Although you can hear the traffic in the street, the children in the primary school playground and the birds in the garden, in my monk’s cell I can hear my characters speak.
“I will have to say it: ‘I am Anya and I am nothing’. I will look down at the floor as I say it, so that I don’t see the smile on my aunt’s face, so she won’t see the defiance in my eyes. She will get her victory. She always wins these battles. I know it, she knows it. But one day, one day she will not.”
In this Cinderella story for adults there is no fairy godmother and no handsome prince, just a girl of spirit and her strange companion.
Orphaned at the age of 10 in circumstances that she refuses to explain, Anya grows up trapped in the house of her abusive aunt where she and Eva, her Shadow, are treated as slaves. As her aunt tries to break her and the punishments become increasingly life-threatening, Anya struggles to find affection and self-esteem. When the inevitable showdown arrives, where will Anya find the strength to survive and escape? And if she does escape, what then? An arduous walk across an unforgiving desert to a city where an even worse danger lies.
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