Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

At the Desk: Anna Hope

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Anna Hope's debut novel, Wake (McClelland & Stewart), follows three British women dealing with devastating loss in the aftermath of WWI. As the story unfolds, the connection between the women is slowly revealed.

Today Anna joins us as part of Open Book's At The Desk series, in which writers speak about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them, telling the stories behind the books that sits on our shelves and in our hands.

Today she talks with Open Book about her temporary desk in Devon, England, where she has found herself as part of a year-long respite from her usual London residence. She tells us about sharing a home with bats and boats, life with two writers and one spectacular, rainy view.

At the moment I am living and writing in just a couple of rooms at the top of a draughty old medieval barn in Devon. I moved here with my husband three months ago — part of a year we are spending out of London. When we saw the place we fell for its eccentric charms; part converted animal barn, part medieval battlement, complete with spiral staircase and rusting boat in the front garden.

But it soon became apparent that the oil fired heating swallowed up an astonishing amount of our savings, we had leaky roofs and a resident bat.

After a visit from the local bat conservation lady (they are a protected species in England) the bat has now thankfully hibernated elsewhere, there are buckets under the leaks, and in an effort to save money my husband and I have decamped upstairs to live and work in a couple of rooms.

I?d love to say the space is calm and meditative, but it?s not — it?s fairly cluttered. My desk is covered with research books for the novel I?m at work on; set in a asylum on the Yorkshire moors in 1911. My husband sits opposite me, working on his own book. Every so often we make forays downstairs to the turreted kitchen, wrapped up in scarfs and blankets, and make ourselves tea, or soup.

It may not be a room of my own, but it is a room with a view. As you can see from the photo, the big window looks out onto rolling Devon country. There are a couple of scattered houses, but mostly all I can see is green. Whenever I need a break from work I?ll climb up the nearest hill. It?s a short, sharp ten minute hike to the top, from where I can see the jagged skyline of Dartmoor, six miles away.

But most often, recently, the view from the window has been rain-lashed. Since we moved here, the weather has been dreadful. It?s been the wettest start to any year since the 18th century, and Devon has been one of the hardest hit places. Flooding has been widespread, and Devon and Cornwall are now completely cut off from the rest of the country by rail. Sometimes it feels as though we are the sole survivors of something — my husband and I — tapping away in the glow of our computer screens while the wind wuthers outside — sending out our words into the void, hoping for an echo back.

My new novel deals with extreme weather too — the summer in which it takes place was the hottest for hundreds of years, in which the temperature rarely dipped below 90 for four months. So while the rain does its thing outside, my imagination is conjuring heat: extremes outside and in.

Soon — too soon — we will be moving back to our little terrace in London, on a street surrounded by hundreds of other houses all exactly the same. I?m lucky have a dedicated writing space there, a shed at the bottom of the garden, just seven feet by five. I love its privacy, and I also love the fact that when I?m writing there I can hear the sounds of the neighbourhood around me — kids playing football in the next street, music coming from the house at the back, the neighbour chatting with her husband in the garden. But I?ll miss our draughty, impractical Devon barn. For now until the summertime, I?ll keep on enjoying the view.

— Anna Hope

Anna Hope studied English at Oxford, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then received an M.A. in creative writing at Birkbeck. She lives in London.

For more information about Wake please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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