‘No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home’ – L. FRANK BAUM, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
However far we wander, wherever we roam, be it ever so humble there’s no place like home – so goes the saying. In order to return to Kansas, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz , had to click her heels together and chant ‘there’s no place like home’. The notion that home is both unique in itself, and uniquely suited to its incumbents seems universal. From the relatively light-hearted world of popular culture, where television series as diverse as Buffy, Lost and Dr Who have all had episodes entitled ‘No Place Like Home’, to real world locations where war, famine and poverty force its abandonment, home is central to human existence.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a home, but it’s what we all yearn for. ‘All exiles carry a map within them that points the way homeward’ –JACQUELINE CAREY, Kushiel’s Dart. And that yearning is not just on a physical level although of course, along with food and water, a home is vital to our very survival. A home provides for us in other ways. It neatly reverses what we do for it – it furnishes and maintains us. We humans invest not only our money, but also our hearts and souls in our homes. ‘Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life's undress rehearsal, its back-room, its dressing-room, from which we go forth to more careful and guarded intercourse, leaving behind us much débris of cast-off and everyday clothing’ – HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, Little Foxes. Our homes sustain us.
So, for writers, this central core of human existence is a rich source of inspiration. From Bilbo’s hobbit house to Christian Grey’s penthouse, all of life, real and imagined can be found in a home.
The concept of home can encompass a house or other dwelling place, a region, a nation or a world. As such it can serve literary and genre fiction well. Works of fiction are often driven by the quest to find a new home or regain a former one. As well as fuelling the plot, a home can provide a setting. It can be where the main character thinks, acts and interacts ‘I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society’ – HENRY DAVID THOREAU, Walden; or it can even be a character in its own right, for example Manderley in Daphne Du Mauriers’s Rebecca or Tara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
Children’s fiction also often relies on the idea of home. It can be depicted as a refuge and place of companionship as in the dwarves' house in Snow White, or the bear’s cave in Jane Chapman and Karma Wilson’s Bear Snores On. It can be a place to dare to explore as in Goldilocks and The Three Bears, or a place full of love and nurture as in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Then there are the surrogate homes such as the boarding schools of Enid Blyton and JK Rowling’s Hogwarts.
But fictional homes, as in real life, can also be places of discomfort and even danger. They won’t always be desirable or safe. For example, in children’s fiction, there’s the witch’s confectionery cottage in Hansel and Gretel, there’s Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle’s house, or the house in Neil Gaiman’s Wolves in the Walls. And in adult fiction, there is the menace of the high rise flats in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, the isolated house in Stephen King’s Misery or of Jack and Ma’s eponymous room in Emma Donoghue’s book.
So, for a writer, the theme of home can hardly fail to inspire.
And what of writers' homes? By that I mean what of the places where they do their writing. Some will have old-fashioned book-lined studies, with solid, dark wooden furniture, a mahogany desk and high backed wing chair. Some will have a workroom furnished with light, Scandinavian, self assembly desk and bookshelves, and an adjustable office chair. Some will have a chip board shelf filling the width of the space under the stairs, a corner of the kitchen table, or simply their own lap. Some will write in a special notebook with a favourite pen, some will write on scrap paper with a free-give-away biro, some will have a shared laptop, or their own dedicated desktop pc complete with wide screen. It may be a chaotic family thoroughfare, or a calm, door-closed space. It may be completely quiet, have music playing or be invaded by the noise of children, dogs and neighbours.
But wherever a writer's home is located in physical space, the home of their creativity will always be that place of safety and danger, of routine and surprise, of comfort and fear, of rationality and insanity, of infinite possibility – yes, there’s no place like the writer's imagination.
Anne Stormont is a writer and teacher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://annestormont.wordpress.com – where you can find out lots more about her.