‘I live in a village in Devon and for many years my workroom was a converted upstairs bedroom, but in 2001 I found I was becoming increasingly distracted at home. I’m one of those writers who needs silence and solitude in which to work and for various reasons this was becoming more difficult. So I went looking for a bolthole. I wanted something simple and uncomplicated, even primitive. As a young man I’d once spent a year living rough in a caravan in a remote part of Cumbria and I’d loved the simplicity of that existence. What I had in mind now was something along the same lines, a hideaway I could rent to work in and where I wouldn’t be disturbed. After tramping around the village for ages, I drew a blank. Then I remembered a couple who own a large property and some land about ten minutes’ walk from my home and who seemed to know everyone in the area. I decided to ask their advice. I wasn’t quite sure how to frame it, my needs being somewhat eccentric, but decided it was best just to take the bull by the horns and get straight to the point: “I’m looking for somewhere quiet to write and I was wondering if you knew anyone who might have a shed, shack, caravan, hut, hovel or something that I can rent with a power point for my laptop and where I can come and go as I please and be as moody and taciturn as I want without upsetting anyone.” Or words to that effect.
There was a long silence during which I assumed they were trying to work out the most tactful way to get rid of me, then, to his surprise, they said, “Well, we’ve got an outhouse we’re not using.” They took me to the back of their house and there, next to a paddock with a horse in it, was an old stone outhouse. On the door was a sign with the words ‘The Drunken Duck’, which endeared me to the place immediately. It was a dry, cobwebby place with power points galore and even a loo nearby. We quickly did a deal about the rent and I had my bolthole.
I worked in this little hideaway right up to September 2013, when the couple had to sell the house and move away. It was the perfect place for writing, peaceful and secluded with nobody ringing at the door. All I could hear was the sounds of nature and the wind chimes outside. The owners were wonderfully kind and understanding and left me completely to myself. If I got stuck with the plot, I used to wander about the grounds and think the story over or lean on the paddock fence and discuss the matter with the horse. He was an excellent listener and never interrupted.
I was a bit worried when the owners left that it would take me a while to find a new bolthole to rent, but they were kind enough to tell me of another couple they knew at the opposite end of the village who had a parcel of land and a quiet little hut they’d be willing to let me rent. Within a few days, I had another writing bolthole, a timber-frame hut which is even more peaceful and secluded than the old one. The couple I rent this from are out during the daytime and are glad to have someone on the premises, so it’s perfect for everyone. My only company now during my working hours is a few hens and ducks and I’ve found they’re just as good as horses when it comes to discussing plot problems. What they think of my stories, however, they keep to themselves.’