KX / BCN
There was a time when I wrote surrounded by huge stacks of books and newspapers. Research was immensely time-consuming, and had to be factored into the writing of any novel, short story or article. Not any more; for first drafts I just need my eyes, ears, an internet connection and my laptop. For second drafts (I always do three, and the third is just a tidy-up) I need books and documents I’ve spent a lifetime gathering and editing. But this means that now I’m untethered; I can at least produce half of my work somewhere else.
I’d been partly living in France for years, but was tied to the house. Moving to Barcelona and getting a roving wi-fi jack released me to work anywhere. Having grown up in the kind of poky Edwardian terraced house you see in any London backstreet, I’ve been used to living in small tidy spaces and sharing communal rooms. According to a new survey, the British live in a far smaller footprint than their US, Canadian and Australian cousins because of two main reasons – wealth differential is smaller, and space is more limited. In less populated countries people spend to have space.
The problem of working where you live is a kind of stir-crazy mentality that sets in after a long, miserable winter, such as Britain has just experienced. Barcelona is the perfect solution for me; creatively ahead of most European cities, it places great value on art and individuality, but even so the culture shock is huge when you jump between the two destinations late on a Friday night. It takes a while to get used to eating after 10:00pm, or going to a bar at 1:00am at the very earliest.
London never has been a 24 hour city, partly because for most of the 20th century strict working and leisure hours were imposed to keep factories occupied, but the Barcelonan day/night relationship is complex. The siesta still holds sway in the South, and as in the Arab world, parks are full of children playing at midnight. Of course the reason is diurnally connected – yesterday it was beach-hot in BCN and minus 1 in KX. One breeds public life, the other privacy.
But does the cold climate means more productivity? I suspect this to be a myth put about by those from cold countries who visit hot ones and find everything shut. And for all that we complain about the ‘Mañana mentality’, we’re drawn to tropical literature. English writers have been traditionally obsessed with ‘hot’ writing. I’ve actually written enough stories with tropical settings to fill a book, and now that I’m a ‘weekend Latin’ I plan to write more.
As for my favourites, I’d pick ‘The Sheltering Sky’ by Paul Bowles, ‘Under The Volcano’ by Malcolm Lowry, and ‘Brazzaville Beach’ by William Boyd, plus collections by Alberto Manguel. I especially love the writings of Dino Buzzati, whose ‘Just The Very Thing They Wanted’ is the most disturbing tropical story I’ve ever read. And of course there’s the brilliant ‘Leningham Versus the Ants’. In films, I enjoyed Claire Denis’s ‘White Material’ and ‘The King of Scotland’, about Idi Amin.
Recommendations for tropical films and stories – especially creepy ones?
NB Rousseau’s ‘Tiger in a Tropical Storm’ hangs in the National Gallery, London.