Justin Cartwright … a home from home
Justin Cartwright (born 1945) is a British novelist. His novels include the Booker-shortlisted In Every Face I Meet, the Whitbread Novel Award-winner Leading the Cheers, the acclaimed White Lightning, shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Novel Award, The Promise of Happiness, selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club and winner of the 2005 Hawthornden Prize, The Song Before It Is Sung, To Heaven By Water, Other People’s Money, winner of the Spears novel of the year and, most recently, the acclaimed Lion Heart. He was born in South Africa and lives with his family in London.
In 2009, Justin Cartwright was interviewed for the Guardian’s Writers’ Rooms series.
This strange long room was once the entrance to a builder’s yard. It was derelict when I bought it four years ago. From here I can go out of the yard into the street and straight into my front door. It’s only about three metres, but the separation of home and work is crucial. There are some reminders of South Africa here: the table is a very traditional Cape table of yellow-wood and stink-wood. The Cameroonian figures, the Coca-Cola radio, the biplane – all come from South Africa. There is a statuette, which was a Jewish cultural award for my last book. Just visible is a picture of Nadine Gordimer, which I took in her house in Johannesburg a few years ago. Books are everywhere, and creeping from the Ikea shelves into the garage which leads off this room. The sofas were about to be thrown out by a photographer’s agent – very 60s – when I acquired them years ago. They are fantastically comfortable and way too seductive: I often snooze here. Long ago I convinced myself that an afternoon snooze is a good thing, and I was relieved to read a few years ago that doctors now agree. The wooden chair is from my wife’s family house in Lancashire.
I think the secret with writing is to do it every day. I have in this room more or less everything I need, from reference books to Post-it notes, so that I have no excuse for pencil sharpening. There is a small kitchen, where each day starts with an elaborate coffee ritual.
The computer on the table is an iBook. I agree with John Updike that writing on a computer produces a particular tone and texture. All my novels are written longhand; I revise them by hand and then type them on the iBook. Somewhere in this computer three full-length novels are sheltering. I use Jstor and Google constantly, so that sitting here, surrounded by my knick-knacks and fetish objects, I am both at peace and fully connected to the world outside. I don’t mind being on my own in this little world for hours on end.