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Sarah Butler on her favourite place to write

Sarah Butler, author of Jack & Bet, tells us about the beautiful writing desk that is now her favourite place to write. 

Any writer knows that it’s important to have a space to write where you feel focused and inspired – whether that’s in an office, a library or on your laptop in bed. For Sarah Butler, author of the profoundly moving novel Jack & Bet, that space is at the stunning writing desk which sits in her studio. Here she tells us more about her favourite place to write. 

I am (unfortunately) a silence-junkie, endlessly in pursuit of the quietest possible place to work. There is something about silence that I find conducive to writing, getting deep inside my own head and the lives of my characters.

I am lucky enough to live in a house with a garden big enough for a small studio, which we call ‘the shed’. It’s a prefab, well-insulated, clean and bright space that sits maybe ten paces away from our back door. The windows look across our small garden and into the gardens of our neighbours – a pleasantly green aspect given the urban area we live in. Right now as I write I can see the beginnings of a sunset, the pale edges of the clouds lit a dusky pink. A bird flits from one tree to another. The traffic is just a gentle background hum.

Sarah Butler's garden studio
Sarah's garden studio

There isn’t much in my studio: three bookshelves packed with books; a big beanbag and my writing desk. The desk, however, is no mere desk. For years I wrote on a glass-topped Ikea table, which was entirely functional, a surface where I needed a surface. Then two years ago I turned forty. I had a small child who woke almost hourly through the night and did not have the energy to even think about organising a party. Instead, I commissioned a writing desk from Debs Hart, a fantastic furniture maker based in North Wales. What a treat the whole process was! Debs visited me at home and we spent a long time talking about how I write and what kind of desk I might like to have. I visited Debs a couple of times at her workshop to refine the designs and think about wood. 

I trusted Debs from our very first meeting, and while I gave her an outline of what I wanted: an asymmetrical top of English walnut with exposed joints, and legs in a wood of a contrasting colour; plus a ‘functional cube’ as we called it, which would lift my laptop to the right height, and incorporate open shelves. Other than that, I let her exercise her creative instinct.

Debs delivered the desk in August 2019 and it is a thing of intense beauty that lifts my heart every time I open my door. The curved front feels as though it is holding me as I write, and the smooth, beautifully joined top is a delight to sit and stroke as I think. The functional cube is too beautiful to go by that name any longer, with pale maple shelves and a stunning walnut exterior. It is more beautiful and more inspiring than I had dreamed it could be.

Sarah Butler's writing desk inside her garden studio
Sarah's writing desk inside her garden studio

Above my desk hangs a beautiful letterpress poster that reads 'Never Never Never Give Up' – advice I have repeated to many of the writers I have met and taught over the years. On the desk itself there’s not much: an egg-timer for when I’m struggling to get started and want to create a false deadline; a pot of Muji pens of varying colours; a ‘book chair’ to hold my notes or the draft I am currently working on. Oh, and my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, for when I really need to shut out the world in order to write. 

Jack & Bet

by Sarah Butler

Book cover for Jack & Bet

Jack and Bet have been married, mostly happily, for seventy years and they want to enjoy the time they have left together in their little flat. But their son thinks they should move out into a very different kind of home with round-the-clock care. When Bet meets a young Romanian woman called Marinela she thinks she might have found a solution to all their problems. But bringing Marinela into their lives will mean revealing a secret Bet has kept hidden, even from her husband, for decades . . . This is a moving literary novel about an unlikely friendship and the struggle to find a place to call home.