The desks not chosen .... by our former writer in residence Judy Brown | Gladstone's Library

The desks not chosen .... by our former writer in residence Judy Brown

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During my month at the Library I became fascinated by what draws us to the places we choose to work. I was lucky enough to be able to use the same desk in the History Room all month. It was lovely that on my last day, the people who had gifted the golden oak table I was using arrived to sit there. I liked that symbolic closure and vacation, and sent a silent thanks to the names on the brass plaque that fine desk. Several gifts, then: a precious month, and a precious place to work during it.

Lesley McDowell blogged about her working space here. I know mine drew me to it, as I walked round the galleries of the Theology Room and the History Room several times, relying only on instinct, like some kind of bookish sniffer dog. The first decision was which section of the library to choose – the Theology Room more open and with a bright churchy glow in it, the History Room darker and odder, hidden. There was something of making a den in this choice.

Then there’s orientation – more pack dog stuff. I like to face the door, to feel safe, but able to make a getaway. So the desk I chose was the middle one of the three far workstations in the History Room, an alcove nestled between a pair of bookcases (Architecture and Education). Not too exposed, not too far in (I select my seats at the cinema on the same basis).

I dithered a bit about the opposite centre alcove – it was cosier, with books behind and facing the window across the well. That was the one Peter Moore went back to when he returned to work for a few days. I certainly tried sitting there, to test-drive its obvious attractions. In the end, though, I liked a bit more light splashing around me, even though it fireworked my computer screen into illegibility. That wasn’t a problem, since I was mostly drafting poems in longhand, and reading, and in any event my laptop went down with some sinister encryption ransomware days after I arrived (don’t people realise that $1000 is probably more than a poet will earn for a hundred poems?). So it spent most of the month in quarantine, being coaxed back from the Dark Web and exorcised by the wonderful Will Davies of Interwebi, for whose help I’m incredibly grateful.

The choice took time, and was worth it. I’ve never felt so comfortable in a library. I often used to go and sit at the desk for an hour or so after dinner, a secret third stint of the day just to enjoy the warm quiet and the way the leaded windows darkened to a rich blue as the light got lost towards closing time at 10pm. It’s a place I’ll carry in my head for a long time to come. On a bad day I might just close my eyes and sit there for a few minutes deep breathing. I hope the poems live up to their birthplace – I’ll keep you posted, and acknowledged!

Judy Brown