There are many theories as to why Scandinavian crime writers prosper in the bestseller lists. But I know why it is. Ikea.
I just bought a new set of Ikea shelves for my office. I’ll get into exactly how that has altered the configuration of my workspace, but at this point let me just note that it makes my writing room seem a thousand times more orderly, less cluttered. As any feng shui expert would tell you, a disorganized room will yield fractured thoughts and fill the mind of its occupier with distraction. For a writer who needs to focus on his manuscript and whose manuscript requires a consistent vision, that’s a bad thing.
So these shelves, produced by a company based in Sweden, have no doubt created the clean, neat spaces Scandinavian crime writers like Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo need to write their clean, neat stories.
I was in need of a little neatening in my office, because my research had started to create clutter. There were piles of books on Mozart, music and the Austrian Empire related to my forthcoming historical crime novel MOZART’S LAST ARIA. Then new mountains of books and documents for CARAVAGGIO ON FIRE, my novel about the Italian artist which will be out in a year and a half.
But that’s not all. For my Mozart book, I learned the piano. So suddenly there’s a piano in my office. For Caravaggio, I’ve been learning to paint with oils, so there’s an easel and painting implements and canvases jostling for space with my guitars and bass guitars and amplifiers (those aren’t research; it’s a hobby).
Add to that the large numbers of foreign editions of my books I’m delighted to receive when I’m published in Indonesia and Romania and Iceland, but which I’m unable to give to friends due to the fact that I only know one Icelander, my Romanian landlord already read the book, and the only Indonesian I know is my editor and of course he has already read the book, too.
I have to carve out space for the little desk where I do my accounts and correspondence – I have to keep that separate from the desk where I write my books, so that I’m not thinking about the phone bill when I should be concentrating on Italy in 1610.
I also keep my clothes in my office, because the walk-in closet in the bedroom is firmly and entirely occupied by Mrs. Rees’s extensive shoe collection.
I think I’ve mentioned everything – oh, there’s my collection of little scarlet Fez hats from around the Arab world, too, and the humidifier my throat doctor has me run all day because the dry desert air in Jerusalem makes me cough.
So my visit to the Ikea megastore in Rishon Le-Tzion (means, First in Zion, from its early Zionist settlement) was most welcome. Of course, I mainly went to buy a “big boy bed” for my three year old, so he could get out of his crib, which was looking more crowded than my office. And a new dining table to replace the old one, which shook every time I cut my food. And some bookshelves for the living room. And a bookshelf for my son. And shelves for his toys.
But the main thing was my office.
The Guardianhas a feature called Writers Rooms in which writers describe what you can see in the photo of their writing digs attached to the article. The rooms rarely look very pleasant. Perhaps that’s because they’re mostly London-based writers who have to work in tiny quarters in the basement of their homes. I think that explains a lot about British fiction.
The Guardian also never seems to show the windows in its photos. A writer needs a window almost as much as he needs an orderly room. You’re closed away all day; glancing at distant traffic or swaying trees or someone cooking in the next building lessens the isolation.
I have two windows in my office. I use them both, extensively.
With a good window, even a disorganized room can be escaped in the blink of an eye. But at Ikea’s low prices, why not treat yourself to a real writer’s room?