Workspace: James Rebanks

The Herdwick Shepherd writes surrounded by the beauty of the Lake District.

The Lake District
A view of the Lake District, where James Rebanks lives and writes

The shepherd's life

When I was young, I loved the book Tarka The Otter by Henry Williamson. I became fascinated by that troubled, brilliant man, and tried to read everything he wrote. Williamson did a lot of his writing in a hut he built on a field he bought in Devon. I’ve often threatened to go and visit his writing hut, but it’s a long way and I’ve not yet managed to find the time.

Perhaps because I knew about his hut, my daydreams about being a 'writer' always involved having a place where I could shut out the world, surrounded by the books and objects that inspire me.

A hut of one's own

A couple of years ago, we built a new agricultural building for our sheep on a hillside in the Lake District. At one end of it I built a farm office, which now doubles as my 'writing hut'. It is a big, light, modern box with large windows on two sides. I can sit with the valley of Matterdale stretching away beneath me and sometimes a few sheep, four sheepdogs and a pony resting in the other half of the building.

As I write this, a mile or two away across the valley, the cloud shadows are racing across the purpled fells. The view is always shifting; it shapes what I write, and how I describe the place where I live.

Peace and quiet

In my daydreams of being a writer, there was a lot more quiet time than there is in reality. You don’t imagine Hemingway or Camus sitting down to write and the phone ringing, or the kids bawling because they’ve had an argument, but I am sure they both had to fight for moments to free themselves from their own distractions. There is never a time when everything else is done.

I still imagine some mythical future in which I am greyer, wiser and less distracted, writing epic books in my writing hut. But there will always be distractions: children to play with, sheep to lamb, or something else calling me out to the fields. That is just how it is.

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