Friday, April 15, 2022

Week 18: Into the Garret

An enduring image and cultural conception of writers is one of garret-dwellers who are separated from the world around them, living somewhat isolated lives of observation, introspection, self-expression. A garret itself is 'a small, dark unpleasant room at the top of a house, especially in the roof', perhaps with space for a desk and a lamp and a cramped author hunched over their work, under a roof window.

This picture of a writer and their habitation is, of course, tied to many dearly-held ideas about the creation of art: that it is an individual and even lonesome pursuit, that there is some element of suffering and poverty, that the artist is paradoxically closer to both the sky and some source of darkness, too.

And yet, despite its evocative name, the Garret Podcast: Writers on Writing, by Astrid Edwards, in fact emphasises other aspects of the writing life, ones that I also tend to focus on in my teaching, such as the exchange of ideas and techniques, collaboration between writers, explanation and discussion rather than suffering and mystery, and - in the case of Astrid's interview with me broadcast this week - our reception and appreciation of others' stories, especially those from long ago. We talked about the place of ancient and medieval narratives in our education systems, and the perilous ways in which we sometimes forget the rich traditions that precede our own times.

The Garret is a wonderful podcast series, one that helps round out our sense of what the writer's room really is. My interview, and a transcript of it, are available in full here, with many other discussions and topics featured here.

The garret of the University of Heidelberg student prison, 2012