I do almost all of my writing in the main branch of the Vancouver Public library, or in the library at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design (pictured here). I’d like to say that I choose these spots because I’m a believer in public institutions, and in the relatively open spaces for reading and creativity that they cultivate, but it’s probably more to the point that I have two young kids, and I need to get the hell out of the house in order to accomplish anything constructive. I do have a day-job office in Burnaby, but I feel that it’s too far away for me to visit on dedicated writing days. My brain never seems to survive a two-zone bus trip…
I guess that I genuinely like the idea of people working or reading around me when I’m writing. I usually focus as intensely as possible when I get the chance to work (those kids, that day-job…), and so I don’t usually strike up conversations with people around me—although I have asked a guy in the carrel in front of me to turn down his iPod. (I can’t quite decide what irritated me the most: the volume of the music or the fact that he was listening over and over again to ‘Mad About You’ by Belinda Carlisle…) The librarians in both places are usually friendly, and, at the VPL, I like to keep my eyes on a few interesting regulars—quiet types, likely without money at hand or too many worldly responsibilities, who have somehow decided to spend most of their time surrounded by books. I know that some of them are probably very hard up, and that I’d be naïve to romanticize their situation, but I still find it inspiring, in a strange way, that they’ve ended up reading deeply and freely for hours every day.
Also, I’ve got an eye thing. For some reason, I need to look out at distances every once in a while when I write, and the views from my carrel at the VPL or Emily Carr do the trick. When I lift my eyes from my keyboard and peer out of the window, or else down a floor or two at the VPL (which has this extraordinarily ‘open’ architecture), I’m not drawing inspiration from the scenery (even though some of the librarians are quite attractive), but simply giving my eyes a break. I’ve heard of many accomplished writers drawing inspiration from beautiful natural environments, but I guess that doesn’t really turn me on. I need physical distance from both my personal life and day-job, near quiet (or at least rigorously controlled levels of 80s pop music), and anonymity in an otherwise social space. I need a source of electricity for my laptop and a source of coffee for my brain.
Here’s a tip. If you’re writing at the VPL, and you want to treat yourself to a good but cheap hot lunch, stroll on down to the Vancouver Community College cafeteria, where you can get a plate of stuff for six bucks and change. The lunch is prepared and served by aspiring chefs, and it’s really not that bad at all, although I always get a kick out of the fact that the servers never seem to know what the meat is…
David Chariandy lives in Vancouver and teaches in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. His first novel, entitled Soucouyant, won the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award for independently published literary fiction. Soucouyant was also longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for several other prizes, including the Governor General’s Award, the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book (Canada and the Caribbean), the Ethel Wilson Prize (BC Book Prize), the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the ReLit Award.