Saturday, November 27, 2021

My piece of heaven - a big black tin box.


All writers need space, and not just in their heads. Dylan Thomas wrote in a hut by the boathouse at Laugharne; Hillary Mantel has a flat that's separate to her home; John Clare used the corner of his cottage, scribbling poems to the light of a fire. Without a dedicated area, our work is distracted and the words disrupted and detached.

When we came to live permanently in Pembrokeshire I needed an office. And when I say need, I mean that in a more visceral than physical sense. I could have cobbled together a workspace upstairs, but it wouldn't have been mine. What I wanted was a home for my thoughts as much as my things. To write I need order and silence and the familiarity of reference... it's a complex formula that's felt more than reasoned.

And so, a project began.

We would first clear the garden once and for all; the groundworks would make room for a sizeable building. That in turn, would allow a reordering of the cottage: we could incorporate storage, shift the oil tank, rebuild the patio...   Quite how it would all turn out, I wasn't sure. But then I always start from notions, and often from memories too.

My paternal grandfather had a shed. He called it his cabin and it was made of tin and wood. He'd sleep there after going to the pub and it was full of nails and string and had our drawings on the walls; there were net curtains on the windows and it was perhaps the happiest place of my entire childhood. I'd long dreamt of having something of the same.

And like my grandfather I'd build it myself, or at least as a collective. 

Which is why if the notion came from me, the design was my son's, who's usefully an architect. The build was then handled by my friend as I strode around project managing in a tinkering sort of way, considering and revising, changing details here and there... just like I do with my writing. 

I looked and learned too, becoming a chronicler of vernacular tin and the versatility of this simplest of construction materials. On my phone are dozens of photos of outbuildings and garages and even whole houses. There's a village hall down the way that I have my eye on for project number two!


Meanwhile, the new shed, if we can still call it that, has cost me twice what I paid for the cottage. To be fair, that was thirty years ago, and no reasonable expense was spared in our specification. Do it once; do it right was our mantra, or at least it was mine. And as. result I now have an office with a loft and a garage type storage area and ethernet connections... and beautiful bi-fold doors that open to the garden.

It was worth every penny. 

For I love it, and it gives me pleasure every day. And that it was designed by Daniel just adds to the joy. It's a light and airy space, with an aesthetic that nods to this cottage's agricultural past. When I first came here, there was a tiny garage across the road; nobody owned it as such, though my neighbour used to keep his junk there. After he died it was demolished and something of my view was gone; something beautiful lost.

And so in a sense, I've replaced that too. My black tin monolith is a homage to what once was there, and more generally to this village and its single windswept street. Some don't get that at all; others, see it straight away. 

As for me, I feel it. 

Like the words that I'm writing, and the space that I'm occupying.  Which currently is rattling as a gale blows outside, rain drilling the roof.  And yet I'm warm and happy here where I am... in my body and my head.  

And of course, in my shed.

P.S. For those who'd like a deeper peek into my little world, here are some more pictures of the writing shed and its construction.















27 comments:

  1. I'm not quite sure where I coud actually put it, but I want one.

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  2. Quite a tin shed you've got. I have never in my life seen a building done in that manner. I need to think about this. The view through your doors is beautiful. But I have a question: So the external barn doors close in front of the glass doors to make an enclosed entrance? I love the flagstone. Does the dark tin surround become a method to passively heat the place using solar energy?

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    1. The sliding door on the gable end gives entrance to large storage area which is separate to the office - the large sliding door on front which can cover the glass doors is largely aesthetic but it also adds an extra layer of security when it is closed - I've added an extra picture to show this.

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    2. The building is supremely well insulated so the tin does not passively heat the building by design but I guess to some extent it could do.

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  3. Completely understand your sentiments. You must smile every time you enter your shed and breathe a sigh of contentment. Well done.

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  4. Hari OM
    Oh yes, now you are giving us all 'bolt hole' envy!!! Mind you, my entire Hutch is exactly this, albeit sandwiched between five others in a tenement setting, so there is really no room for complaint here. Oscar appears to approve of the new digs too &*> YAM xx

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  5. The sliding doors to the garden! Yes.

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  6. It reminds me of a farm building. My brother has a similar one.

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  7. When I first saw the metal construction and you called it a "shed" I was envisioning something cold with thin walls. But now that I see the construction photos this looks much more welcoming, and I love the simplicity. It's a beautiful little building. Well done.

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  8. Fantastic and built to last. Perfection. I love the roof line, tall slim windows and sliding doors to the patio. The black exterior is very appealing as well. I look at shipping containers that some are using to build homes. They interest me too.

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  9. Wow! It is wonderful. It fits in so well with its surroundings. I

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  10. Tim Dowling in today's Guardian said when he got a laptop he realised he could avoid having to walk across the wet garden to his work shed.

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  11. So, I take it that you are a writer?

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  12. It looks great, an architectural triumph, elegant in black.

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  13. The shape is of the colonial cottage i grew up in: gable and 'lean-to'. I love that simple shape. Corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) buildings are synonymous with down-under, but on houses only the roof. My brother however decided to go the whole hog when he built his new home. Everyone thought his house would look like a beach shack, but it is fabulous - like your new addition. I particularly like the sliding shutters. I might steal that idea when i build my own CGI home in NZ.

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  14. I think the word 'shed' scarcely does justice to such a wonderful - and practical - design. Congratulations to you and your talented son!

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  15. It would be nice to have a place of my own, with large windows and lots of light. Well done.

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  16. What a wonderful space. Dylan Thomas would have probably seethed with jealousy. By the way, Dylan Thomas did not write in The Boathouse, he lived there and wrote in the converted old garage which was by a narrow track above The Boathouse. You must have been there.

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  17. Oh yes, you're correct about Dylan and yes I have been there. I shall have to correct it.

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  18. Shed? It's a palace. Enviable sliding doors.

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  19. Those sliding doors! So great.

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  20. Makes me want to get home from Arizona and clean out my own "room with a view" - yours looks so neat and tidy. Of course mine is just a garden/potting shed - and the view is the back garden, but I love it and had a guy build it for me many years ago.
    Daniel certainly came through for you with this awesome space - I bet you'll have people wanting to stay over and listen to the rain on the metal roof!!! Mark, are you set up for tea/coffee brewing? Having a storage area will be a godsend - we never have enough.
    Congrats on your writing space - can't wait for the new book.

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  21. I love it. You've often written about hiraeth and I can see it in your creation. AND it's in keeping with your blogname :)

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  22. Dear Mark,

    What a beautiful building. I'm delighted to hear that your ideas have, at last, come to fruition of having a room of one's own. It is also very special that Daniel also designed it for you. There is a lot of shortage for timber up here in Scotland. So, I'm not surprised to learn that it's more expensive than you anticipated. But the time you would spend in the space writing, thinking and sketching out ideas, I think it's definitely worth the effort and the expense.

    Virginia Woolf, who wrote an essay about having a room of one's own, also wrote in her shed at the bottom of her garden. Also, I can think of a few novelists including Deborah Levy who write in the shed.

    Although having a room of one's own is perfectly nice, a shed of one's own is sheer heaven.

    With warm wishes, ASD

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  23. Beautiful shed! The bi-fold doors are really special.

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