I rise with the sun at five and stroll down to the rush hut by the shore which serves as my private writing room. No sound all day but the surf sucking endlessly at the reef. I work here until one o'clock and produce maybe three thousand words a day....Yeah, right. Of course I do... Finding the time and space to write is something which can defeat even the most talented and industrious scribes, let alone your average bodger and working parent like me.
Virginia Woolf said that all a woman needs to write fiction is a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year (now about fifty thousand?). As a twice divorced man, I feel I have already made my contribution to women's fiction. But my donation - surely on a par with the Orange Prize - has left me neither with the room of my own nor Virginia's private income. And she didn't have to cook fish fingers for the kids.
Google the words 'writer's retreat' and you end up looking at some fantastic places from California to Ghana via the Cotswolds and Istanbul. Total solitude is promised, apart, of course, from your fellow retreatees, and you may end up being distracted by the holistic personal growth diversions on offer. The experiences available while you write range from yoga to rainforest walks, surround-sound TV and hot-tubs to "How to capture your holiday in watercolours". I was momentarily interested in "Writing on the Beach with Robert Vaughan" until I realised that he is an American academic and not the man from Uncle.
Because, as anyone who has written or tried to write a novel will tell you, there is a size issue. Mention to another novelist that you are writing one and they will ask you, not 'what is it about?', but 'how many thousand words?' Novels are big and there are a lot of words in them. Getting those words onto the screen or page is going to take a lot of time, alone. To embark on a novel means making frequent calculations of time against thousands of words, and also, of course, finding somewhere to do it where people cannot or will not want to come. Somewhere cheap and boring. And this is where the Travelodge chain comes in.
When Hattie Heyridge, a comedienne friend of mine told me that Travelodge do a writer's retreat rate, or at least, an incredibly cheap night rate used by writers with a dateline, I was interested. The beauty of this option is that one has to go to whichever Travelodge currently has the space. Hattie ended up in Wembley. So, no visitors.
My personal feeling is that novels are too long anyway. Short Stories are apparently publishing suicide, so, for me, the short-form novella, is the ideal length. But even a novella has to be about thirty thousand words long, not something one could toss off in a long weekend in a Travelodge. Or could one?
Let's see; assuming it were a bank holiday and one knew already exactly what one was intending to write - so plot, characters, research already in the bag - and assuming that one could take Friday afternoon off, get straight to the Travelodge and had say, six hours sleep a night, an hour a day meal break, no time at all for abluting and shaving etc. - novelists don't do that sort of thing - then one would have just about sixty hours of writing time, or five hundred words an hour. Two sides of densely written A4 every waking hour from Friday lunchtime to one a.m. Monday night.
As I lie on the bed in my beige room with instant coffee making facilities nearby, I think wistfully of all those bookish studies of well known writers in the "Writers' Rooms" series that used to run in one of the Sunday papers. However they mostly lacked the one thing you do get at the Travelodge, a comfy bed. Proust, who , like Woody Allen, tended to write while lying down, might have preferred the Travelodge option in this respect.
'Bonsoir. Room service?',
''Evening, Monsieur Proust? What can I get you?'
'Some Parisian Madeleine cakes and a string quartet of musicians willing to play throughout the night while I write, please, and vite about it!'
'I'm sorry Marcel, sir, not possible on our super-saver writer's rate. If you like music, it can be piped into the lobby areas and the lift.' Damn it, the idea of Marcel Proust going up and down in a Travelodge lift all night, while trying to complete 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdu' is getting in the way of my novella. On the other hand, that might make a good opening scene.