Claire King


Architecture, Writing and Life: Three things that should be hard work.

Posted on: November 22nd, 2010 by Claire - 10 Comments

This week I’ve read a number of blog posts about writers’ need for emotional support of some kind – sympathy for our plight, recognition of our efforts, appreciation of our work.

In particular, this post by Kirsty Logan “Art is not hard” (coal mining, she very rightly reminds us, is hard job, writing – not so much).

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot. I grew up in a coal mining village, in a coal mining family. My father, grandfather, several uncles, neighbours – they all went down the mines and did a job which is punishing, unpleasant and badly paid. I would rather write for a living than go down the pit.

But like the majority of writers I know I do not write for a living. We write as well as holding down at least one other job (generally, nevertheless, not coal mining) and often raising children at the same time. When you’re in that situation, writing eats into the time that could otherwise be ‘me’ time – time that could otherwise be spent having a bath, getting some sleep, watching the television, reading a book. But you allow that to happen – you make that happen – even if you are physically or emotionally drained, because you are working towards something, you are creating something.

In my Metazen Interview this summer I described writing a novel as like building a house: “It has depth and height and layers and elements you can’t see but that have to be there to make water come out of the tap and the fridge stay cold enough to chill the wine…Drafts and foundations, plans and frameworks and structure and aesthetics and furniture and layers and layers of everything. It’s exhausting. But when it’s done people will just say – Nice house, Claire.”

But on reflection, a house is not the metaphor I’m aiming for. I want to create something that will make people catch their breath. Evoke an emotional response. Something like a cathedral. And with writing as with architecture, having that vision is not enough. You have to decide to build it, with all the application and sacrifice that entails.

I do think that writing should be hard. That you should push yourself to make it the best you can, or else why bother? Not just writing in fact. Life. I am reminded of a quote from Matt Taylor, an architect, designer, inventor, teacher, facilitator, sailor and entrepreneur who inspires me.

You cannot have uncommon results by common means. Nature does not allow it. Only the too socialized believe they can have excellence and their comfort. Only the dull confuse the tools of building with the act of building. The insecure wants his rules. Only a coward wants control. Life must be lived, not managed.

Blinded by fear and ambition and stale used up rules, we battle our way through embittered days. We take all the joy out of our work. We succumb to accountancy. And, we destroy our lives and our planet. Heartless, joyless we become killers. We kill the Human Spirit, and in doing so, kill everything else.

… To build is to reveal your soul. To build is to engage, to act, to touch, to love. If you want a Cathedral you have to be a Cathedral builder. You have to stand in bright light and be counted. You cannot hide in mists of mediocrity and safety – of normalcy. You cannot accept limits, yours or anybody’s, as mandated, given, immutable…

A Cathedral is not ordinary and it cannot be had by ordinary means. I have one question to ask of you: Why? Why would you ever build anything less than a Cathedral?

Someone recently said to me “…yes you don’t have any heating in your house yet, but you live in France and you have a lovely husband and lovely children and work that you enjoy and now you’ve written a book and just imagine soon you could be a published author. You’re so lucky.”

I felt, at that moment, that they had walked into my half-built cathedral and were admiring its beauty, while I’m still aching a little from the effort of hoiking lumps of stone about and thinking it would be good to get a roof on sometime soon.

10 Responses

  1. Martha says:

    If I write a list of all the things I am supposed to do/oversee in a single day, I feel hypoglycaemic. Best not to think.

    But it’s not daunting. The answer to all of it lies in the single moment when you do, to the best of your ability, a single thing. One word. One sentence.

    OK – sometimes that thing is called ‘passing out from exhaustion’… But even if you’re doing that, concentrate on the groan, the flopping limbs, the theatrical turn before you crash onto the serendipitously(ish) placed scatter cushions. Do it with style.

    Good luck with your cathedral. Let me know if you need someone to pass the tiles. (But please don’t remind me about the house refurbishment I stacked into next week because I have a writing deadline, too).

  2. A very enjoyable post. Really liked the Matt Taylor quote.

    Here’s to time, energy and inspiration.

    All the best with the cathedral


  3. mary says:

    I love “to build is to engage”. It is indeed, no matter what we are building, or digging. It is engaging with the world, with other people, with basic humanness. Well-said and well-inspired (thanks, Matt).

  4. Alison Wells says:

    This is a really really wonderful and inspiring post. Because life and writing can be, ARE, so bloody hard sometimes but you are right, it’s a cathedral or nothing really and it’s blocks and plaster and dust and toil for a long long time before the glory. This has made me both determined, clear about my path and proud.

  5. Hello Claire, what an inspirational Blog and so true. Wishing you success with all your cathedrals!x

  6. Sue David says:

    I love this post, not just because of the ideas that it contains, but even more so for the way it is so beautifully written. On reading this, I can see that those spires and stained glass windows are starting to sparkle in the sun.

  7. claire says:

    Thank you all for your lovely comments and I’m so please you found it inspirational.
    Matt Taylor, and his wife Gail, inspired the way I work in my dayjob – if they hadn’t thought of it, what I do to earn a crust these days probably wouldn’t exist.
    Wishing you all success and perseverance with your cathedrals too!

  8. Rachel says:

    Hello Claire.

    I find both writing and great architecture inspiring and love your idea of marrying the two.

    Reading your words I could clearly picture a great edifice growing and establishing itself before me. I’m now feeling a little like Tom Builder in Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I have my plans, my hammer and chisel and I’m ready!

    Thanks Claire for a great blog x

  9. living is easy. Just got to remember to eat, breath and sleep. It’s dealing with the physical and emotional hardhips that get ya. Writing is easy. You gotta just let your imagination go. It’s tying a rope around the words and making them into something almost everyone can ‘see’ that’s the hard part. And architecture? I think that’s just hard. period. LOL

  10. Claudia Watts says:

    “Only a coward wants control”. My philosophy entirely, especially with regard to gardening. Somehow, though, my neighbours are less philosophical and glare at me balefully when I attempt to explain the rationale behind the unkempt nature of my lawn…

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