The Writing Place – Rudyard Kipling

I write, you know. Mostly at my desk, often in my head and occasionally out and about. I scribble ideas in notebooks and on my phone and at night I rehearse ideas to commit them to memory. I use lined paper, plain paper, scrap paper and the screen to record plans and research notes, to make drafts and sweat through rewrites and edits. My writing discipline is improving; time then for a new blog series.

I visited a number of places in the past year which were directly associated with famous authors. It really got me thinking. I like my writing space to make sense in my head, though I doubt it comes over as organised to others. I am not comfortable in a noisy space. What about other people though? How much room do you really need to write? What conditions are conducive to penning a good book?

Where do other writers write? 

Towards the end of last year as the light faded into half-days, I found myself at the desk of Rudyard Kipling. If you are interested in seeing it for yourself, Bateman’s now belongs to the National Trust and can be found in East Sussex. Kipling lived there from 1902 until his death in 1936. The grand Jacobean house, set in beautiful gardens was the result of a very healthy income from his writing; a situation most writers today would find unimaginable.

This is his desk, in his rather lovely office:

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The walls are lined with shelves and shelves of books, and the table holds pens, ink, newspapers, books, letters, an hour-glass, sealing equipment and his tiny spectacles. In the waste-paper basket are half a dozen discarded novellas by the looks of it. A globe, rugs, fine furniture and windows on two sides make the room look studious and practical and elegant. I like this room. It has the perfect writing atmosphere of diligence and expectancy. The creative space would be a dream for many writers; I’d love it too, as long as my dodgy copperplate could be brought up to scratch. I wouldn’t need the ash-tray and I’m not that impressed with the ivory elements, but the ambience is wonderful.

Kipling owned terriers, and I imagine him leaning back in his chair at the end of a good paragraph, inhaling a puff of something stale and woody and giving the little black pup sleeping by his desk a playful scratch. He loved his dogs, and wrote a book during his time at Bateman’s called Thy Servant a Dog which was published in 1930 from the point of view of ‘Boots’. I bought an early edition on my visit and was struck at how the dog’s language was just as witty and dog-like as many memes circulating the internet today.

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Outside it was wet and wintry, but we still found time to see a little of the gardens. My son Joe was not impressed with the brassica beds. Perhaps I ought to revisit at a sunnier time of the year. He’s not really a sprout fan.

Visiting Rudyard Kipling’s home and seeing one of his writing spaces was fascinating for me, and I found out lots more about the man and his work. For example:

  • The author’s full name was Joseph Rudyard Kipling; he was known as Ruddy or Rud most of his life. (Rudyard is the name of a lake near Leek in Staffordshire, which was a special place for his parents.)
  • Rudyard was born in India at the end of 1865. As a young child he had Indian servants and was spoilt and difficult to control, but he did learn Hindustani.
  • At five and a half, Rudyard and his younger sister were packed off to England to live with foster carers.
  • He took a job in journalism in Lahore (then in India) when he left school.
  • He was short and full of energy and often worked very long hours.
  • Kipling became a freemason in Lahore.
  • His works were first published in India and by 1891 he was a household name in England and America.
  • Rudyard married American Caroline Balestier in 1892. They lived in Vermont for a while and had three children: Josephine, who died in 1899, Elsie and a son John who was killed in WW1.
  • Kipling was extremely well-travelled in his life, visiting Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bermuda, Rhodesia, France, Sweden, Egypt, Brazil and the West Indies.
  • Among various other accolades, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
  • He worked hard to help the British in the Boer War and visited South Africa a number of times;
  • Kipling owned a 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I, which can be seen at Bateman’s.
  • His long friendship with Lord Baden-Powell led to his Jungle Book characters’ names being used in the Cub Scouts;
  • Jungle Book was made into a cartoon by Disney in 1967 and a live action adaptation in 2016, but not many people know that Kipling wrote a sequel, The Second Jungle Book.
  • Kipling was overlooked for the role of Poet Laureate in 1913, perhaps because of his independent views and reluctance to write to order.

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Rudyard Kipling was certainly a fascinating man, and a very popular writer. His writing space had many of its own stories to tell. I’m not likely ever to get my own Nobel Prize certificate adorning the walls of my home, but seeing around Kipling’s was exceedingly satisfying.

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