by Michael Donkor
When my first novel came out in 2018, I was lucky enough to be sent around the country on a bewildering but exciting promotional tour. The tour took in bookshops, literary festivals, libraries, schools. To begin with, the prospect of the Q&As that came after the readings pricked me with an itchy fear. As time went on and I started to tick the events off my calendar, I realised – comfortingly – that audiences tended to ask the same questions. Curiosity about my ‘writerly routine’ prevailed. Do I have a special pen? When do I write? Where do I write?
I responded to that final one with a beaming smile. It was always nice to talk about my beloved study. It’s the box room at the back of the flat on Amesbury Avenue I share with my husband. Its wall are a deep shade of plum. They’re lined with the books I’ve collected over the years – full of voices from imagined worlds that keep me going. My chaotic desk – a mess of neglected plants and coasters – is pressed against the window. In my long bouts of daydreaming I am entertained by the acrobatics of the cats down in my neighbours’ back gardens. I feel very fortunate to have a space in my home where I can close the door and imagine.
But, as we have all experienced over the last few months, the home has become a strange, not always necessarily comfortable, place. Though, of course, having bricks and mortar within which to lockdown is a privilege not available to all, the process of spending so much time between our respective four walls has been difficult to say the least. In this time my study, rather than a haven, has frequently felt a little bit oppressive, restrictive. These feelings haven’t been especially conducive to creativity as I’ve continued to work on my second novel.
So over the last few months, when the weather has permitted, I have abandoned my desk: Hillside Gardens Park has become a new workspace for me. What I have loved so much about writing in our little patch of greenness is its sense of balance, of pleasing contrast. On the one hand, because it’s tucked away from the bustle of Streatham, there is often a settling quietness about Hillside Gardens Park that has enabled my thoughts to expand. Especially first thing in the morning, with the blousy roses flapping in the breeze and mug of tea in hand, it’s been the perfect place to start gathering ideas or hatching a plan of attack for the day’s writing ahead. Equally, on some of the busier, scorchingly hot afternoons we’ve recently been gifted, the vivacity of the place has proved helpful. Sitting on one of the little circular tables with crescent-shaped benches, I’ve looked up from my notebook and been delighted by sights, noises: cartwheeling children, couples sipping on ciders, teenagers bearing ice poles, games of hide and seek. Something about the sense of movement and the atmosphere of energetic harmony has enabled me to work through knotty sentences, or reminded me that writing is so often about simply keeping the pen moving along the page and seeing what happens. Out on Hillside Gardens Park, I’ve heard Spanish and French and Urdu. I’ve overheard students chatter about which teachers and lessons they’re missing. Parents have soothed toddlers who’ve fallen off scooters. When deep in thought, dogs have shocked me with unexpected barking up at birds weaving between branches; friends have squealed as they tried to avoid being soaked in water fights – all sounds, all voices from the real world that have kept me writing.
Michael Donkor’s Hold is published by 4TH Estate