Claire Tomalin … Sinking into the Mud

Claire Tomalin … Sinking into the Mud


Claire Tomalin is an English author and journalist, known for her biographies on Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, and Mary Wollstonecraft.

“If I’m in a state about a book I’ll get up at 6am and write before breakfast but usually I’ll start afterwards and then work a full day with a break for lunch. I work best in my study. I need to be alone and undisturbed. I call it “sinking into the mud”.”


Photograph by Eamonn McCabe

In 2007 she was a featured author in the Guardian Writers Rooms series …

“Eamonn said: “It’s not your study I’m photographing, just your desk. Don’t tidy it up.” So I left some of the clutter, like the heap of unfilable scraps of paper with odd addresses and telephone numbers jotted on them. I am untidy – I don’t think it possible to research and write biographies tidily – but I did move the piles of books on the floor so that Eamonn would not break his neck. I notice he’s made my wastepaper basket prominent, reminding me that I must try to throw things away. When I am working on a book the hotchpotch gets worse and worse, file boxes of notes, notebooks, print-outs and photocopies, London library books, my own books. With Hardy it almost got out of hand, all my old copies of the novels and poems, so many later editions too, critical works, biographies, volumes of letters, topographical books, maps, pictures. The hours of work spread too, and I found myself slinking off to my study in the evening, on Sunday afternoon, before breakfast.

 On one window ledge I keep stones picked up from Greece, France, the Palatine, Dorset. Through the window I can see apple trees in the garden, tempting me down for a spot of weeding. The cushion on my chair was given me by my daughter Emily, as was the spoon and fork mobile that hangs behind my head, startling me with its sweet chime when I collide with it. I work on what was the old kitchen table in the first house I lived in as a young mother, in Greenwich. It was so worn when we acquired it in 1957 that we had it covered in black formica, which seemed smart then. Almost all my books have been written on it.”


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