Caryl Phillips - Official Web Site

"Writer's Room"

Published in The Guardian, 2007.

The fact is, there are two desks in the room in which I write. One has neatly stacked books on it, perfectly spaced posters hang on the wall above the desk, and the pens and pads of paper are all carefully arranged. Then there is the other desk, which is generally chaotic. I write at the chaotic desk.

Caryl Phillips's 'chaotic' desk.Caryl Phillips's 'chaotic' desk.

This desk has the Hitchcock 'Rear Window' view out onto other people's lives at the back of my apartment. I don't have a telescope but I do stare out of the window when I get stuck. However, I've never seen anything interesting. The one piece of wall decoration on this side of the room is a poster from the 'Rumble in the Jungle'—the 1974 Ali-Foreman fight in Kinshasha, Zaïre.

The desk is always cluttered. Phone next to diary. Fax machine/Copier easy to reach. Plenty of light. Candles as well as halogen lamps. Post-its remind me of appointments, quotes, deadlines. I'm time obsessed. The clock on the computer isn't enough; I have some fancy crystal mounted clock within view at all times. I bought the speakers for the computer thinking that I would listen to music (no voices) and not have to get up and cross to the other end of the room where the proper sound system is located. However, the pile of CDs began to clutter up the desk and get in the way, so I moved them back to their original place. The speakers are now redundant, aside from using them for YouTube clips of favourite football moments.

Caryl Phillips's 'neat' desk.Caryl Phillips's 'neat' desk.

The files stacked vertically on my desk are the ones for upcoming readings or speaking commitments. The ones that lie flat on the desk contain what I'm working on. I write long-hand, so a clipboard with a pad in it, and a pen nearby, are essential. I have no affection for the actual desk. I bought it fifteen years ago in an office supplies shop. It's simply a big table with acres of space. The other desk is made of stained dark wood and has brass handles and all the necessary draws and pull out trays. I often sit there to pay bills, and I use the computer on that desk for booking tickets or doing searches. However, I never last long. The organized chaos on the other side of the room always draws me back to the desk by the window.