Monday, November 13, 2023

Emily Cockayne: shedworker

This is a guest post by Dr Emily Cockayne, Associate Professor in Early Modern History 
at the University of East Anglia and author of several books, most recently Penning Poison (2023) which is reviewed by me in the latest issue of the Idler magazine.

I had a writing shed built in the Autumn of 2009, costing a few thousand pounds [pictured above]. A sedum roof helps keep the interior sufficiently insulated to need only an oil-filled radiator on low. Three books have been written in the shed so far – it was financed using part of the advance for my second book, 'Cheek by Jowl', a history of neighbours. This felt appropriate as I had a different perspective on my own neighbours from my shed chair. 

Next, I wrote 'Rummage' in the shed, a history of recycling written on a recycled desk. Living in a terraced house, and then having two small children, writing at the bottom of the garden seemed to be an obvious solution to escape from the bustle of family life and establish efficient work habits. In the last 14 years, I have found the shed to be a place of contemplation and also of refuge.  

It was great to have the shed to work in over lockdown, when I led seminars from it remotely, recorded lectures in it, and also finished my fourth book, 'Penning Poison', a history of anonymous letters, as well as updating my first book, 'Hubbub', for a second edition. Whilst my colleagues were interrupted by postal workers and the sounds of ice-cream vans, I could carry on in the relative peace at the end of the garden. An anonymous letter had circulated our street back in 2015, and I suspect the writer lives in a house immediately behind my shed – something I kept in mind when writing 'Penning Poison'.

I often share the space with one or both of my cats, and there is usually a big stripy spider busily making a web in a corner. Recently, I moved my sewing machine into the shed, and now also use it as a space for embroidering and patchwork-making, as well as marking student essays and writing my next book.

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