Does colour make a difference to your creative space?

So, new house, new study – hurrah! For the last six years, my study has been a box room, approximately eight-foot square. In the new house, I get to have a bigger room, right at the top of the house where I can shut myself away and write my novels.
We’re moving in a couple of weeks, but are lucky enough to have the luxury of being able to decorate before we move in. So, this little cubby hole is at one end of my study, and it’s where my desk is going to go. Thing is, what colour shall I paint it?
Usually, I choose cream or white, but maybe this time I should be a little more adventurous.  Maybe go for red, or purple. Will the colour of my walls have any effect on my creativity, I wonder? I’ve been looking into the issue of colour and how it affects us, and I found some interesting  stuff!
Apparently, there has been significant research on the effects of the colour red, which has been found to enhance sexual attractiveness, but also to cause teachers to give harsher grades, According to research published in 2010 teachers using red ink gave lower marks than those using blue ink. Psychologists suggest a number of possible reasons for this, for example, red may make us more likely to focus on the concept of failure, or, being associated with aggression, it may even increase testosterone levels, making us more assertive and critical. Who’d have thought it?
I didn’t find much in the way of scientific research on the colour purple, but in popular psychology terms, it seems to be associated with creativity. And I do have a purple notebook. But would I want purple on the walls? Not sure. The most interesting thing I discovered was that, according to research carried out in Munich, brief exposure to the colour green is particularly effective in enhancing creativity. In four separate experiments, participants consistently demonstrated higher levels of creativity after being shown a flash of the colour green than those who were shown red or blue. read the article here
So maybe it doesn’t matter what colour I paint my study as long as I have a quick look at something green before I start work. It certainly explains why we might feel more inspired after a brief walk in the park or over a field. Perhaps I should buy a green notebook? Better still, perhaps I should take to a daily gin and tonic with a big wedge of lime in it? I don’t suppose that’s tax-deductible.
Anyway, we’re moving in a couple of weeks, so I need to decide what colour to paint the walls quite soon. What colour is your writing space? Have you painted it an interesting colour, or do you go for neutrals, with flashes of colour here and there to inspire you? I’d love to know what other writers think!
To find out more about me and my work, visit my website

Urban Writers’ Retreats

I’ve long been a fan of writing retreats and have been on several run by the Arvon Foundation. These usually take place in a rambling old house, nestling in the heart of glorious countryside. They run from Monday evening until Saturday morning, so there are four clear days in which to write, and five evenings in which you can write if you wish, but which are often spent chatting with other writers  over a glass of wine or three. It’s an incredibly supportive and encouraging environment, and the total immersion in what you’re doing, together with the creative energy created by a group of writers living and working together, is extremely productive.
But how would it work, I wondered, with an urban retreat, which usually lasts for just one day and takes place in a busy town or city?  When I heard that there was to be an urban retreat here in Sheffield, I signed up pretty quickly. I’m finishing the first draft of my second novel and I thought some focused time away from the distractions of home – the Internet, the dog, the laundry – could be just what I needed. But there would be no beautiful countryside in which to walk when I got stuck, no evening round the fire with a big glass of wine. Could it possibly be as conducive to work as the residential retreats have been?
Reader, it could. It was; it is! The day started at ten, and the first fifteen minutes or so were spent talking with the other writers. The words of a sceptical friend rang in my ear, “I don’t think you’ll get much done,” he said. “I think you’ll all just chat.” But then the organiser led a brief introductory session so that we all knew who was who and what we all hoped to achieve, and then we settled down to work at our laptops, and for the next few hours, nothing was heard but the soothing tap of fingers on keyboards.
Throughout the morning, cups of tea and coffee with an accompanying tin of biscuits magically appeared at my side. At lunchtime, there was a general clicking of necks and stretching of legs. We ate the light lunch provided, talked about how we were all getting on, and quickly got back to work. The afternoon progressed much the same as the morning, only perhaps with a renewed intensity as everyone seemed aware of the time running out.
The retreat was due to finish at five, and as the time approached the clattering of the keys got louder and faster as we all tried desperately to get just that little bit further before we had to leave.
By the end of the day, I had got more work done than on any other single day that I can remember. I finished a scene I’d been struggling with, wrote a new short scene, and did a significant amount of rewriting and editing.
I staggered home stiff and aching, jittery from the coffee, half-blind from staring at the keyboard, and slightly dazed from the sheer intensity of it all. But the overwhelming feeling was a sense of exhilaration at the amount of work I’d  achieved.
This particular urban retreat cost £30, including all refreshments. I couldn’t afford to do it very often, but in my opinion, it was £30 well-spent, and I’ll be booking another one in the very near future. For details of this one (Sheffield Writers) and others around the country, see links below:
In the West Country: Retreat West
To find out more about me and my work, including my debut novel which is being published in a few weeks by Simon & Schuster, have a look at my  website

A room of one’s own – where do you write?

Jilly Cooper writes in a gazebo in the grounds of her Cotswolds home; Jeanette Winterstone uses  an outbuilding that she describes as a cross between a shed and an office – she  calls it her ‘shoffice’; and Roald Dahl famously wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
When the children were small and I was an occasional, dabbling writer, I wrote at the kitchen table so I could keep an eye on what they were up to; I’ve also been known to write in the car, in bed, or even in the bathroom – there was a time when that was the only way I could get a little time to myself!
These days, I’m lucky enough to have my own study. I have all I need: desk, office chair, bookshelves, books, a couple of comfy chairs and even a halogen heater for those days when the central heating just can’t warm someone who is sitting still for hours at a time. The dog lies at my feet and photos of my loved ones look down on me from the walls, which are also adorned by pictures that I like, plus framed certificates, awards etc. There’s also a corkboard with ‘interesting things’ pinned onto it.  It’s a great room. I love it.


Why then, do I really struggle to write in it?  I can write this blog, I can write letters, I can write student reports and I can do all my lesson planning. But when it comes to the novel, I seem to dry up.
Recently, a friend offered me the use of a desk in her office for a few weeks until her new employee started, and I was amazed at how much I achieved.  So I tried to analyse why. What was different? First, the desk was clear and tidy – nothing on it but the pc and keyboard. At home, even though I try to clear my desk every night, there are always a few things that it doesn’t seem worth putting away.  Second, my friend was sitting opposite me and working – if someone else is working, I feel guilty if I’m not working too! Third, no home telephone – at home, you’re at the mercy of people who know you’re there and think it’s ok to call you for a chat in a way that they wouldn’t dream of doing if you were ‘at the office’.  And fourth, I didn’t use the internet. There was a connection, of course, but because my friend was working away in the same room, I felt far less inclined to spend time on Twitter, following interesting links or just chatting.
So now I no longer have use of the office, I need to find a way of working that’s just as effective. At the moment, I’m using cafes.  I love the little independent tea and coffee shops, but these can be almost too friendly and intimate, and anyway, I’d feel guilty sitting there for ages with one drink. But the big, impersonal places like Starbucks and Costa are perfect, because as long as you buy something, they don’t seem to mind you taking up a table. So for an outlay of roughly £2 for a coffee, I can stay comfortably for two hours and get quite a lot done. 
When I thought about it, I realised that it’s probably because these places have all the elements I’d identified before: the table is clear – just a laptop and a coffee cup; there are plenty of other people around working away on their laptops; there’s no landline telephone, and you can put your mobile on silent;  and finally, there is an internet connection if you want it, but with everyone else around working or chatting, you’re less likely to use it.
So, at a ‘rent’ of about £4 a day for two 2-hour sessions, it’s way cheaper that renting an office. If I do two sessions, I’ll come home at lunchtime to deal with emails etc. If I’m only doing one, I’ll use it for fiction, then I’ll do the other stuff at home.
If I had a big garden, I think I could make a ‘shoffice’ work, maybe in the form of an old camper van that doesn’t go any more, but in the meantime my ‘office’ will be Starbucks or Costas, because I’m finally making some progress. I wonder how many novels are currently being penned in Starbucks and Costas? 
What about you? Where do you write? Where would you write if you could choose an ideal place?

For more about me and my writing, visit