There are a few schools of thought on where a writer should live. In the 1920s and 1930s, the greats flocked to Paris, the 1960s – London, the 1990s – Prague, and perhaps it was Berlin in the noughites.
However, it should hardly matter where you are, if you are determined and disciplined, you’ll write in a suburban semi in a provincial town, just as well as you will in a garret in Montmartre. One thing the abovementioned cities do have in common is that they were all cheap places to live at the time of their popularity with writers. Writing is not a well paid profession, and it makes sense to nest somewhere where rent and food is affordable, thus lessening that worry every month. Other writers will argue that one should focus on areas where artists are congregating so one can better breathe in the zeitgeist, feed on that cross pollination of ideas. Then there are those who say it is a better idea to reside somewhere in relative proximity to the centre of your chosen industry – and for publishing that would be London/New York/Berlin. Others suggest pitching down in a city which is going through an ‘interesting time’ such as a war or social revolution.
I’ve come to my own conclusion which I’d like to share today. I’ve spent much of my life wandering (perhaps running away, or was that gathering experiences?) So much so, that it is hard to know where home is now and I’ve spent the past year considering my future quite strongly. I think it is time I surrendered and called somewhere home and I think I’ve found the spot or rather, it has found me.
This Christmas/New Year, I’m spending time in Norwich, UK, Budapest, Hungary and Waterford, Ireland. All of which could lay a claim to being my home – and in some respects, they all are yet none of them are.
Having spent the majority of my adult life abroad, the impact of my experience of exile is thrown in to relief when I return to Ireland. And I don’t like that sense of no longer belonging. Also, Ireland is as complicated, contrary, passionate, stroppy, defensive and temperamental as I am. And therefore, I am not convinced it is the place to live as a writer (although, it does make for excellent material).
Budapest, my adopted home, the city which gave me maturity and launched me as a creative writer – and where the majority of my friends and social circle still reside, is slipping from me. A friend emailed yesterday with some suggestion of cafes I should try out when I’m in Budapest over Christmas. I was mildly affronted. I don’t need ‘where-to-go’ tips for a city I lived in for eleven years. I used to edit a guide to Budapest, forcryingoutloud! But in truth, I didn’t know any of the places my friend suggested. Life has moved on in Budapest, without me. I’m am no long of that beautiful city. Also, Hungary has recently taken some scary steps politically and I don’t want to be there while it continues on that sad path – though I do feel compelled to comment on it from afar.
And then there’s Norwich, England, a city where I came to study for my MA in Creative Writing and have ended up spending much time here over the past four years. Norwich is a pleasant, very English city, which I had to locate on a map the week before I arrived here. All I knew about Norfolk was that Oliver Cromwell came from hereabouts, which to an Irish person, is not a great recommendation.
I’ve since found Norwich to be a ‘goldilocks’ town. It’s not too much of anything, yet it seems to have everything in moderate measure. In short, it is comfortable and pleasant and undemanding and reserved and allows me to sit back and digest the years I spent living in more dramatic, demanding, raw, aggressive, passionate theatres like Hungary and Ireland. In this way, I feel that Norwich is, in its quiet, unassuming way, a city conducive to art – if more so as a catalyst in its facilitation of creativity, rather than a city that inspires great art per se.
Can I dare to say that I’ve found home? I don’t think I’ve quite made that decision yet – but I can venture that it is quite likely that Norwich will be my home in the future.