Shedloads of Work is part of Off the Shelf's centenary celebration for the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Dylan Thomas worked in his Boathouse at Laugharne for the last four years of his life and produced some of his most important work there including Under Milk Wood. Dylan’s work was full of a strong sense of place and the view from the Boathouse features in his work.
To celebrate 100 years since the birth of Dylan Thomas, Off the Shelf invited writers to submit a short piece of poetry or prose inspired by the place they work, or the landscape around them. 16 pieces of work were selected, and can be enjoyed here. Each piece has been illustrated by Eleven Design in response to the place that inspired its author.
I live in a city of ups and downs. Of terraced homes on terraced hills. The sort of place where a spirit level is pointless. Where nothing runs straight or true but is always just a little crooked. A child’s idea of geometry.
The view from here is no different. A street with several prime numbers missing. Perhaps the Victorian town planner was a numerologist?
Every level of the house gives a different angle.
In the basement I’m half underground. It’s where the Christmas decorations live, and on days I forget to close the backdoor the neighbour’s cat.
The ground floor is where I live the most. It’s where I cook and eat and read. In the gloaming I pretend to be James Stewart in Rear Window, spying on my neighbours’ comings and goings from the dining room window. On summer nights the mating call of owls drifts over from the park.
I do my daydreaming in the attic, the skylights so high there’s hardly any view at all.
From one skylight a hum of traffic and a great canopy of trees. At eye line a solitary silver helium balloon that lost its air around Easter. I wonder whether it will be jammed in the telegraph wire all year.
From the other room row upon row of houses reach up to the low-lying sky. The city’s daily offering to the often-absent sun. It’s where I watch the day close and the November fireworks begin.
Jonathan Ellis teaches literature and film at Sheffield University. He is the author of a critical study of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop and co-editor of two collections of essays, the most recent on poets’ letters.
I do most of my writing in the attic. Although I cannot see the ‘view’ from my desk, I still like to imagine it. The one thing I can always see is the sky. It keeps me grounded.
I wake to the sound of cockerels,
muted by double glazing.
From my sentry box kitchen
high above the street
I watch a man, from bus stop days,
head for London Road.
Either side of my lookout post
is a whitewashed room.
Three tall windows tilt sunward,
tendrilled by almond-scented clematis.
At one end of a gate-legged table,
eyes level with chimney pots, I write.
Below is a terrace of blinds, clipped privet,
dandelions, fleets of wheelie bins.
Above, ribbons of chimneyed roof
thread through trees. At the very top -
seen from the table’s dining end -
a pocket of green: I call it ‘the-park in-the-air’.
And still there’s half a window of sky,
slate-heavy, cloud-pillowed, blue.
A traffic of voices, ladders, stereos
a unicyclist crests a speed bump,
a three-legged dog hops by.
Round the back it’s like being in the country.
A thrush sings. Today I’m left in charge
of hens, speckled, bobble-headed,
apricot, grey. I scatter wheat,
lift warm eggs. At dusk I’ll
fasten pop-holes against the fox.
My prize is a patch of ash-rich soil.
Words settle as I shovel compost,
dig, pull spaghetti roots of bindweed,
carve a groove. I take knobby seeds
of spinach in my palm
and drop them, one by one.
Rooted in rural Gloucestershire, Rachel's lived in Birmingham, Belfast, Sheffield, Tirana, and in a Quaker community in the Hope Valley. Ill-health took Rachel from social work and created a space to write: about community living; stories and poems for children. Cyclist, singer, cleaner and gardener, she's working on a children’s novel.
I write in my airy first-floor living room, which has a six-foot-high south-facing window. The height above the street, surrounding garden and view create peace and spaciousness. I have solitude whilst also enjoying warmth and companionship from my landlady’s household below. The urban setting and wildlife both feed my imagination.
Like him, I'm listening to palavers of birds -
to jackdaws and their craic in the rookery,
the plink of blackbird claws on the metal roof
of this decrepit static caravan balanced
on breeze blocks above a tide of greenery.
I charm it with a torn out picture of his shed -
it perches among beaks, above the sails
of a full tilt river, switchback sea,
mine floats in larking Tansley Dale -
I place a desk, a plastic chair, disconnect my head
from tinnitus, rot, the need for mastic, by peering
at his red legged table, the storm of paper,
his photographs of Blake, McNeice and Auden,
a man who might be, must be, Whitman.
Sally has won many prizes for her poems, songs, BBC Radio 4 programmes, including two Sony Radio Awards. A pamphlet, Singer, was a winner in the Poetry Business Competition. A recent poem was runner-up in the National Poetry Competition and a collection Are We There Yet? was published last year.
My 'shed' is a 1958 Bluebird caravan in the Peak District - with all the attendant problems you'd expect in a caravan of that age. It's only a short drive and I get to write away from other responsibilities - that is, if you can ignore its leaks, damp, tat.
She was given a room at the top of the house
but the room seemed unready for guests.
Sucked clean of detail. Naked walls,
a narrow bed, a table, chair, a cupboard,
an empty shelf. Each just itself and in between
the purity of space where things could have been.
This was not what she knew. She knew
the textured maze of home, layered chaos,
history held in bulk, chronologies of passing passions
shelved and cupboarded. She knew seeping drawers,
bedside tables, breeding grounds for books and blister packs
of pills and broken spectacles, still useful,
boxes children wouldn’t take away, left luggage
for a journey not yet planned, deferred. At home
she fitted neatly into spaces other left, crammed
barely held ambition into corners they ignored.
She stared at the empty page, not knowing
how to fill it. Who for? What with? She knew
they’d never picture her, waking here
unnerved, unshaped, but breathing.
Kate was born on the edge of Snowdonia and grew up on the limestone grasslands of the Cotswold escarpment. After twenty-five years as an urban nomad she has recently come to rest in Sheffield. Place and landscape are integral elements of Kate's work as a writer and educational researcher.
My writing workspace is my desk, 60 inches long and 30 inches wide. It’s tempered glass and reflects the light. Because I tidy it each night, it offers me a clear thinking space each morning.
The desk is too big for this room. I'm not even sure how we got it up the stairs. Its grand and sturdy presence is out of place in the colourful whimsy of this writer's space: a hodgepodge of postcards, souvenirs, books and photographs. It belongs in another time, somewhere in industrial Barnsley in the seventies in an office you designed. In my memory, you sit behind it in a wide-lapelled pinstripe suit, with already thinning hair swept across your forehead like the memory of your teddy boy quiff. There is a plaque set on the brown leather embossed with your name and the words: Managing Director. I don't know what it means but I know that it is an easy job, swivelling on the padded chair with the phone to your ear all day long, twiddling the coiled rubber wire of the handset while you talk. Much easier than Mum's job I think, Mum's jobs: cooking, washing, typing, driving, tidying, chivvying for the four of us. All you do is talk. Sometimes I wish you would listen.
Now, in my room, the desk is scratched and tea-stained in the silence. Through the window, across the tree-filled valley, I see the hospital where you stayed, stuttering and failing as you tried to finish your sentence. A captive audience then but I held my words like unspilt tears. Now they flow easily. This writer's room is filled with words, it echoes with voices. I wonder if you hear them now.
Beverley Ward is a writer and literature development consultant. She lives in Hunters Bar in Sheffield with her two children. She mostly writes fiction but occasionally dabbles with poetry. In 2014 she won a Northern Writers' Award for her young adult novel, Straight on Till Morning.
My workspace is a room of my own but not always a refuge. Notebooks jostle for space with invoices and my son's hospital notes while toys spill across the floor, on route to the charity shop. On the wall a piece of paper reminds me: "I'm a writer first."
Past the bargains quarter and boarded up market
A jostle for giros on cheap Argos biros
True nature is glimpsed
Hopeful and glistening, my feet hit the Wicker
Rivers and junkies, spider bridges, dropped arches
Grafitti that says
"Imagine Waking Up And All Music Has Gone"
Then industry swells up and we’re onto the water
River rushes, smoke blows
Now we’re in wonderland, into pastures forgot
A salmon leaps up past unaware commuters
Still in express mode
And into old Attercliffe, blistering in the sun
Personal bests beckon as we near The Big Gun
A hero's return
On Spital Hill, Pitsmoor communities shining bright
Photographs by a man who was lost way too soon
And those battered arches
Crowds gather to watch my last final sprint up hill
No garlands but smokers and vapers and dealers
Freshly minted beauty
Laurie Harvey is a writer, public relations person, non-viveur, occasional wrong-doer and dancefloor enthusiast.
This poem is inspired by a regular run I do from my office in Sheffield down to the tranquillity of five weirs walk, past the belch of smoke and industry, to salmon pastures and back again.
I do not find it in my bedroom, invaded by toddlers every night, or in the bathroom where they empty the cupboard of linen and make imaginary beaches; nor in the kitchen with its ready to topple piles of laundry on the sides, never ironed, at least not until this week’s introduction of school blouses and iron on nametags into our previously iron-less life.
I do not find it in the family room where most of life happens against a background of CBeebies and an ever-changing collection of toys to pick a path around. But, if I am lucky, I may find it in ‘the posh lounge’ - so-called because it houses our new sofa, and because - at least when the children are looking - we don’t eat and drink in there.
In amongst the books and my cluttered bureau which houses the keyboard and screen of my computer and in the bright pink filing cabinet and in among my photos and pictures, my Buddha ornament and retro radio, I can hear myself.
If the others are out and if I can ignore the paid work, the admin and the housework, then perhaps something might stir. And if all those things do not come together, I will get in the car and at the roundabout at the bottom of my street I will turn left for the library or right for the hills, my pad and pen in my handbag.
Emma Sawyer is a 41 year old busy working mother. In the past few years Emma has been working on a novel in her spare time. Emma developed repetitive strain injury a few years ago and uses a dictaphone and voice activation software to transcribe her words onto the computer.
As I often use the Dictaphone when ‘making things up’ my workspace can be anywhere. Inspiration is likely to strike if I am walking somewhere remote where nobody can hear me muttering. However, most of the work (and some of the inspiration) happens in my ‘posh lounge’.
No rustic shed, no pristine office adorned with floral bunting. Nor a café, buzzing with life and a lingering aroma of espresso. No coastal retreat, with salty sea breeze stinging my lips. No, there is nothing romantic about this space .
I hide in a corner with my words, legs tucked under my bottom into the perfectly formed indent in the chocolate brown upholstery; a matching furry throw smothering my body. Laptop perched precariously on the settee's arm, tatty notepads strewn alongside me- the first burst of inspiration jotted down for all eternity. It is comfortable and comforting, my space. Safe. The room surrounds me- a silent TV, the gas fire which has long since been condemned, a rogue lego brick left abandoned on the burgundy rug, nestled alongside the crumbs from yesterdays hurriedly eaten sandwich.
But my corner is all that matters. The sinking seat on the left-hand side of the sofa.
The one place where I can be free. Where I can be me.
My fingers wander. And in that moment, I am no longer alone in the confines of the neutral room. I can be anywhere I want to be.
Kate Beeden writes romantic fiction under the pen name Katey Lovell and is currently seeking a publisher for her latest novella, One Wild Winter. She also runs the successful book blog Books with Bunny from the same well-worn spot on her sofa.
I write from my cosy sofa, in an ordinary lounge, in a typically northern terraced house in Woodseats.
High on a hill in a long snake of houses looking down onto a panorama of corporate proud buildings. A mock Tudor semi-detached Birdseye view. I sit here both empowered and threatened by landscape. A feeling of age in my retreat. The house existed before me but seems like we age together. Some days I feel as old as the land our house rests on.
In the day there is a drowsy hum of cars, an occasional clatter of trains below. Our neighbours leave brightly in the morning and return subdued. It is not a lively place. Well kept houses and well washed cars.
In the night bats sweep darkening skies, foxes sidle between houses and a badger waddles down the street, while houses sparkle from TV’s. The owl hoots in a stillness which does not speak of little houses, but of times when the land was fields and before.
The history runs as deep as the mines and culvetted rivers. Once below, 200 paddled wheels ran. Grinders, grinding to their death the tools that changed the world. Up here farmer smiths hammered to make steel sandwiched blades for scythes.
This land was once where people searched for iron, and built timbered houses in woodland spaces. Monks and Bishops, Knights and Yeomen, Parliament and Royalists roamed the land my home is on. What a small life is mine compared to the many.
Joy Bullivant is 61 years old. She is disabled and spends most of her time on her laptop researching Sheffield’s history when she is not able to go out and photograph Sheffield’s historic places. Joy helps run a website, blog, and Facebook page called Timewalk project. She began studying Sheffield’s history when she started looking at her husband’s genealogy.
I live in Norton Lees not far from Derbyshire Lane where Turner painted his view of Sheffield and the Tudor building Bishops House. I did not want to concentrate on the interior of my 1920s house but its place on the hill as I wanted to convey the history of the area and Sheffield which is what I study, write about, and promote. I also use the view slightly lower down (from the park across the road) on my websites.
A wedge of hill and sky
thrill my eager eye.
Elegance and structure
dance with agriculture.
In prettiest dress.
Created to impress.
Such power of desire
through time to bind:
by wealth defined.
to render the sublime:
a vision, still
the later mind.
by tumultuous greens.
clouds berthed above
a pastoral scene:
The light holds court:
Each atmospheric image sought
though camera lens;
I drink it in with every sense.
Beneath beguiling face
lies virtue and its fall from grace:
Flawed like us.
Adored by us.
real, imagined, dreaming place.
Beloved by heart, by head:
my daily bread;
to this vista’s
trial and error...
As a founding staff member of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Angie worked alongside the Founding Director, Peter Murray, to develop the project’s regional, national and international profile. Later, she developed the Archive as a vital resource for the study of sculpture in the open air.
Additionally, she is a practising painter - and recent poet.
The YSP Archive sits at the crest of the Bretton Estate (landscaped in the 18th and 19th centuries) with a view across the valley to the opposite hillside. Often writing in my mind and making notes, and spending the majority of my life there, it also becomes my creative "workspace."
to be inspired
away from the faces that paint leaves grey.
I locked myself away to nurture my desires
away from the outside and its forever changing voices.
I locked myself away
and tried not to think about life outside
where there isn't enough hope,
where there aren’t enough tools,
where there isn't enough space
and from where I had to escape
from a jungle where trees are skyscrapers,
monsters are machines
and people are prey.
I locked myself away to achieve my ambitions
I locked myself away with the tools I wanted
I locked myself away so my ideas could grow
I locked myself away in a room,
where my walls are the boundaries for the worlds I create,
where my posters are frames for characters,
where my possessions are treasures.
I locked myself away in a room,
away from people: restrictions
away from places: prisons
away from the world: a limit.
I locked myself in my mind,
where inspiration is limitless.
Akeem Balogun's work has appeared in Flash, In The Red and on the Poetry Map. At the moment he’s busy writing each story that comes to his mind. He studied creative writing at Edge Hill University and lives in Sheffield, UK. He runs the online writing space inkposts and tweets @_akeemtweets
I write in my notepad on my double bed and type on my desk where there’s a laptop, speakers and a MixDeck. Behind the desk there’s a poster of Dom Kennedy’s album, Get Home Safely, next to it there's a checklist I've pinned to the wall, but I've forgotten why.
I sit in my garden. The gentle twittering of the birds vies with the wail of sirens on the ringroad. There’s a group of young men playing kickabout over there. Someone’s left an empty beercan on the grass. Today, nobody makes the wire walls of the basketball court clatter. A busy cloud of mini hovering flies is furiously going nowhere. My garden is at St Mary’s Church and Community Centre on Bramall Lane. I’ve come here a lot these last couple of years. My flat may be tiny with not even a balcony or terrace, but my garden is spacious, quiet and well-maintained. The city traffic is a dull rush somewhere outside this calm patch of nature just a few minutes from home. September sunshine plays with the yellowing leaves on the sturdy and majestic trees. I see a couple of runner bean plants in the vegetable beds – investigation later may yield a crunchy green treat. This is a public space; anyone can come here (though surprisingly few do). Living in the city centre I am used to having only a couple of rooms that I call my own. But for me, that’s plenty. I don’t need redundant parlours and long driveways. My private space is internal: the infinite arena of my mind. As expansive as the sky, untouchable and cavernous. When I look to the heavens and contemplate life, I’ve shut my doors to the world. But thanks Sheffield for the greenery. And do keep planting those beans.
Alison earns her living as a freelance copywriter, although she is also training to be a psychotherapist. Alison came to Sheffield as a student in the late - 90s and never left! Most of her writing is for a specific business purpose, but occasionally she finds some time for more creative noodlings.
Usually, I’m in my flat. My computer sits on a beautiful hand-made beech ply table top. Behind the screen, one of my five large sash windows gives me a view of the gentle pile of Sheffield city centre. Today, a blue crane competes for height with St Paul's Tower.
Especially when the October wind
roars woken from the wild Atlantic
salt on its breath, scrawling italics
on the cloud-stirred face of the pond,
alliterates the sky with flocks of birds,
herds a huddle of sheep against the hedge,
breathes sibilants through rushes, reeds and sedge,
beneath migrating murmurations of words;
when after gold September the wind wakes,
shakes the crows, a pair of kites, throws gulls
shining back to sea like flights of angels;
when it sees the careful garden taken apart,
death-decomposing and returned to earth;
when it puts the devil in the blackberries we left
ungathered, drives days and words to drifts,
undoes the trees, to die before rebirth.
Imagine no songs and the heart deaf,
the mind silent, when winds won’t wake
and words won’t sing, and seas no longer break
over this hill, this house, this roof,
no dying light, or loose-gold-falling
leaves, no weather, no day or night,
no season shortening, or narrowing light,
no coming winter, or following spring.
Especially after the longest night,
the shortest day, in the first fall of snow
lie all remembered winters long ago,
a dark world’s transfiguration as white
as the first page. Alive in the dying year, I make
my music out of words the wind brings,
whatever season sings,
whatever weather over the heart breaks.
Gillian was born in Cardiff, Wales. Poet, playwright, editor, translator (from Welsh),
President of Ty Newydd, the writers´ centre in North Wales which she co-founded in
1990. Tutor on M.Phil. course in Creative Writing, the University of Glamorgan, since
1994. Freelance tutor of creative writing, primary schools to adults. Her poetry is
studied by GCSE and A Level students throughout Britain. She has travelled in
Europe and the United States giving poetry readings and lectures, and her work has
been translated into ten languages. She has a daughter and two sons, and now lives
with her husband (an architect) on a smallholding in Ceredigion, where they raise a
small flock of sheep, and care for the land according to organic and conservation
Forever I have found myself in the living room. The heart of the home, there's a reason why I call it the living room and not just the sitting room.
Always at the dining table, I scribbled and scrawled my way from short stories through to A Levels. The thick wood has all my written work ingrained in its very rings.
Never having a desk in my room at home nor in university housing, I have always been found writing away on tables surrounded by others.
A kettle boiling here or the fuzzy TV noise there (providing comfort in the darkest hour when deadlines loomed), I can't imagine writing anywhere than in a busy living room populated by my chattering friends and family.
Living, breathing, beating room. A place I will continue to return to when in need of reassurance and inspiration. Conversation passes through its air and finds its way onto my keyboard and into my work.
The sofa and the armchair. Used and worn, beside the overgrown plant dominating the space. Countless CDs stacked onto shelves and paperwork peeping out of drawers are all overlooked by the silly comments exchanged and the desire to relax.
Sit me down in a library and I'll write but sit me down in my living room and I'll create. A. Masterpiece.
Victoria is currently a third year at the University of Sussex studying English. A keen bookworm, she often used to juggle three books at a time when she was a child and could sometimes be found reading in the cupboard with a torch! Victoria aspires to a career in journalism.
The workspace I have written about is the living room and my relationship with the living rooms I've encountered in my life, especially that of my family home. It's the largest room in my house and has always provided me with a sense of familial love and comfort.
I write at home. It’s how I like it – solitary, and quiet but for the scraping of wasps in the cottage walls. The words organise themselves into sentences, sometimes easily, playfully, accidentally. But sometimes they fall against one another, heavy and immovable, like discarded millstones in the woods.
I take myself there, over the garden wall, through bracken and ancient oak thickets. I climb the first ledge, then the second and walk, impatient to be somewhere in the centre of it all.
There is only lime-green grass and sentinels of silver birch - in winter mists a thousand silent ghosts. A lost sheep bleats and, once, I saw a stag - like some kind of message. Our eyes had met, our breath white in the freezing air. He turned, and left me stunned, rooted, in love.
Trees seed and grow and fall and rot amongst the scattered mill stones.
Stannage, Burbage, Mam Tor. I know they are out there, impressive and vast. But I have eyes only for the white silver birch and the lime green grass. And come here looking for my words.
Jo is 41 years old and lives in the Peak District with her husband and two daughters. She loves the outdoors and feeling a connection with life cycles and the seasons. She love running, wild swimming, reading and playing in a ceilidh band. Jo writes novels and short stories.
Bole Hill Quarry supplied the stone to build Derwent and Howden dams between 1901 and 1914. Once a noisy, industrial site it is now a beautiful silver birch woodland. Millstones, grindstones and crushing stones were made in the area for over 600 years, and abandoned stones lay scattered throughout the woodland.
The room has not been designed
with the artist in mind. Its angles
are not pleasing, they do not invite
creative juices to flow. They are square;
square desks square computer screens
square sheets of paper in square envelopes
in square in-trays.
Mountain ranges do not roll suggestively
before her eyes, only the jagged faces
of box files piled on flat-pack shelves.
Waste paper baskets do not evoke
deep lagoons or rock pools, they evoke
nothing but a waste of paper.
Windows do not look out onto parks
brimming with the hustle and bustle
of humanity at play. They look onto
the next unit in the industrial estate,
it is the same as this one. In any case
the regulated air temperature means
she can believe it’s anywhere outside,
and she does.
She writes on borrowed time, stealing
seconds from data entry to concoct
her own versions of how it is.
Poems are born between the minutes
of Monday morning’s meeting;
she believes it is beautiful outside.
She believes her childhood is outside,
hears it rushing past the car park into folds
of heather and sky. Sea spray splutters at the
office door, sparks like sharpened flint
on the slate eaves of the shore.
The gallery she keeps in mind keeps
her mind from sinking, though at times
exhibits are misremembered. Trees are not
the right kind, or should not be there,
and in place of kelp-wet rock there is only
magnolia; matt finish and peeling slightly
at the edges.
Genevieve is a Sheffield-based poet whose previous performances include the Edinburgh Fringe and Shambala festival. She is involved with innovative projects in South Yorkshire via local organisation WordLife. Her written work has appeared in Now Then and Iota magazines, and in 2013 she was longlisted for the National Poetry Competition.
The workspace is an open-plan office in an industrial estate, with windows on one side looking onto the warehouse. The second place described is Orkney, not visible as a real-life vista from the workspace but remembered as the landscape of the protagonist’s youth, who secretly writes poems on work time.
The Lady bridges the gap and I watch over her from my Sixties garrison.
No boat-house here but an honoured chimney and a confusion of tracks cover a buried past.
I am forming new pathways amongst concrete stepping stones. My brain stores them- bus passes, tram stops, wild flowers in unlikely places – neuron pathways from past to present.
I worship our lady from my jewelled fortress. She has opened her arms to the kindly Earl of Newcastle; withstood flood and force; beckoned Love and Furnace, Passion and Steel. Now she is waiting for the castle gate to rise again.
Journey folk hurry forth and back pounding the bargain shops, wanting Moor. They have forgotten the Scottish Queen.
Once, far above, a great embroiderer twisted golden threads into messages of love and loss. With Jupiter in her lap and her keeper friend at her side, she wove tales of the French court.
The sweep of history bears me along the street in the sky. Sun sets over five weirs and seven hills. Captivity and freedom meet in the expansive skies.
You couldn’t make it up!
Anna Harland has recently moved to Sheffield. She attends a Creative Writing course in the town centre. She is enjoying the life changes and new experiences arising from moving here after thirty years in York. It is a positive choice. Anna has two sons and a daughter.