The Godfather: Peter Corris on his workplaces
I’ve done my writing in some pretty unusual places. The early chapters of the first Cliff Hardy book were written in a Melbourne house that was packed up ready for our move to Sydney. I had a borrowed electric typewriter moored on some boards stretched across a number of tea chests packed with household goods.
When we reached Sydney we bought a terrace house in Forest Lodge and the only place for me to work was the narrow built-in second-floor balcony. There was barely room for a desk, a typewriter (the first four Hardy books were typewritten) and other office necessities and in summer the intense sunshine flooding the area and the heat made work impossible.
Our next Sydney house was in Leichhardt Street, Glebe. We had three children by that stage, with all bedrooms occupied, but there was a small room at ground level under the two storeys at the back – almost a cellar. The place had been a boarding house in the past and this room had been occupied either by derelicts or very careless tenants because sections of the floorboards had been burnt out. Lacking carpentry skills, I patched the floor with palings fossicked from the back lanes and laid down seagrass matting. Away from the sounds in the house, adequately lighted, the down-at-heel décor was the perfect setting for writing about my low-rent detective.
Perhaps the most unusual workplace was at Wombarra in the Illawarra. With a friend we’d bought an eight-hectare property incorporating a fibro cottage, two one-bedroom cabins, a large mobile home and a small caravan, all distributed over the block. Our friend was to occupy one cabin and we had a tenant in the mobile home.
The caravan was my workroom. This required some preparation. The caravan dated, at a guess, from the 1950s and was fitted out with all the fussiness of that benighted period – innumerable shelves, cupboards large and small with doors and the necessary bench and bunks. I removed a lot of this paraphernalia and took the doors off cupboards to provide space for books and files. The floor, inevitably, was covered with linoleum. At that time I had a dot-matrix Toshiba computer and printer – my payment for doing a Toshiba commercial which, horribly amateurish as it was, was mercifully only ever shown a few times.
This equipment, which would be a museum piece now, was virtually state-of-the art then and required electricity. The caravan was set among trees and bushes about 50 metres from a cabin that had power. An electrician rigged a covered outlet on the exterior of the cabin and ran a heavy cable down to the caravan to provide light and power.
I worked happily and well in the caravan for the time we stayed there. It was seemingly weatherproof and comfortable enough in any conditions, with the advantage of being away from distractions such as the telephone and visitors. I wrote several books there.
Bill Garner, a friend, then a TV scriptwriter and now an academic and author, visited and said we ‘were living in Paradise’. Indeed, on balmy Illawarra days with blue skies and sea breezes, the beach a walk away and the escarpment as a dramatic backdrop, it seemed so.
But the worm was in the bud. When we left and I had to pack up the caravan I found that it had in fact been very damp. Mould had formed behind the books, a lot of which were ruined, while others had been infested by insects and eaten. In the many workrooms I have occupied since, I have always made sure that they were dry and insect free.