Philip Hensher

 Here are some facts about Philip Hensher:

He was among Granta’s 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 2003.

His 2008 novel The Northern Clemency was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Prize.

His novel Scenes From Early Life (2012) is told in the form of a memoir and has photos in it.

He writes with no disturbances. No phone. No computer. No television.

Looking at the photograph of where Hensher writes, it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a desk.

In an interview with The Guardian Hensher said:

“I’ve never written successfully at a desk – whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner. Or, more often, just on the arm of the sofa…A sofa, a notebook, and the promise to yourself that in a couple of hours you can put Radio 4 on – that’s just the ticket.”


Philip Hensher

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

 “It [fiction] allows us to see the world from the point of view of someone else and there has been quite a lot of neurological research that shows reading novels is actually good for you. It embeds you in society and makes you think about other people. People are certainly better at all sorts of things if they can hold a novel in their heads. It is quite a skill, but if you can’t do it then you’re missing out on something in life. I think you can tell, when you meet someone, whether they read novels or not. There is some little hollowness if they don’t.”

― Philip Hensher in Goodreads Quotes.

 Do you give yourself treats for having written for so many hours or so many words? 


36 thoughts on “Philip Hensher

  1. Interesting share, Carol.

    I’m not persuaded by his quote about novels. People who read novels feel that everyone should read novels. People who enjoy traveling claim that people who don’t travel are missing out on an essential element of life. People who have kids feel that everyone should have kids. Each want to convince themselves that they are putting their time on the planet to good use by postulating that everyone should do as they do.

    Each of us has our own path to follow . . .

    • That’s an interesting perspective. It does look a bit like justification and somewhat pretentious to believe that you’re hollow if you don’t read novels. I’m sure a lot of vibrant, intelligent and interesting people would disagree, as you did. I guess he’s tooting his own horn.

      Thanks for commenting, Nancy. Have a great weekend. 🙂

  2. I find it interesting that he wrote a novel in the form of a memoir…I’ve never heard of that before. I can totally relate to not writing at a desk. My first novel was written at a small computer desk late at night into the wee hours of the morning, but here lately I’ve got to get in where I fit in. Sometimes that means the dining room table, but most often in my bed. Great post Carol!

    • In your bed. That’s a comfortable desk.
      When i started to read Scenes From Early Life I had to check the book cover to see f it was really a novel that I was reading for it reads like a memoir. Especially since it has photos inserted. I’d never seen that in a novel before.
      Thanks for stopping by, Faith, and commenting. Have a great weekend. Sweet dreams. 🙂

  3. I agree with Nancy. My husband doesn’t read novels, but he’s highly intelligent. He married me. 😉 He prefers programming manuals and taking apart motorcycles while I love to read and write.

  4. Thanks for the introduction, Carol. Actually I think those little incentives can be really helpful. They encourage us to break up tasks and to keep motivated during THOSE DAYS.

  5. My treat for having written is the great feeling I get when I’m done. This past week I’ve made myself work on my novel before I open any social media. It’s been wonderful to get in 2,000+ words before I do anything else. Now, we’ll see if I can make that discipline last…

  6. I think it’s fun that he doesn’t write on a desk. I write in bed 95% of the time. I always think of schoolwork when I think of a desk.

    • Writing in bed. How interesting. Faith Simone also does that. I wonder if writing in a laid back, relaxing environment is conducive to creativity. Seems like it might be.
      Thanks for stopping by, Ojima. It’s been awhile. 🙂

  7. I think I will treat myself to chocolate this afternoon, thanks to you. I again love that so many writers that you profile don’t fit the magazine photo session version when it comes to where they write or what their desk looks like… sometimes when I see famous writers profiled w/ their immaculate desks that they acquired from an auction in 1700-forgottten, I feel deficient.

    • We do tend to have that useless habit of comparing ourselves to others, don’t we? You pose an interesting point: how important is where you write to your creativity?
      For example, I cannot write while away from home. Not even in a coffee shop. At home though, I can write in pretty much any room. It doesn’t have to be at my desk but if I’m putting some writing into the computer I do prefer my desk top computer to my lap-top.

      Treating yourself to chocolate. Now that tells me that you’ve been hard at work. Enjoy.
      Thanks, Diahann for reading and commenting. Have a super weekend. 🙂

    • Thanks, Luanne for ordering my book…I hope you’ll enjoy it.But mostly, I hope that it will inspire you for your own memoir.
      You might also want to have a look at Hensher’s Scene From Early Life. Even though it’s a novel it is written in memoir form.
      I think it’s grand that you give yourself treats for no reason. What is that saying “I’m worth it!”
      Thanks, Luanne for stopping by. Always a pleasure. 🙂

  8. I agree with his sentiment that desks fill up with rubbish quickly as mine does and I regularly have to tidy it to cleanse my work space. I like having somewhere that is mine to work from though so I do have a desk in the spare room.

    • Yes,yes, yes…desks do fill up with rubbish quickly. No sooner is my desk cleaned (well almost) when it’s filled again. Right now on my desk are such non-writing material as: two packages of gum, a basket of nail stuff (files, nail polish, buffs), a jumble of watches that I’ve been meaning to have repaired for ages, an empty box of printer ink (I need the number to order more), bills, an empty wrapper of Godiva caramel chocolate and so forth.
      Thanks, Rebecca for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it and hope your weekend is awesome. 🙂

  9. Most of my non-writing time at my desk is spent clearing my desk. There is much to be said for Hensher’s method. I read about that research into novel reading and empathy. Sadly, to have this effect the novels need to be ‘literary’ or at least character-based works, the lighter plot-driven or formulaic stories don’t seem to have the same effect.

    • Hilary, I can relate to your comment about non-writing time clearing your desk. I used to not be able to write unless my desk was clear. But I found that it was a losing battle and I was spending too much time clearing my desk, worrying about it not being cleared or thinking about when I will clear it. Now, I ignore the mess and clear it when it really gets too messy.
      Thanks for your feedback on the “reading novels is good for you” research.Interesting how it only has to do with literary novels.I guess the plot driven novels are more entertainment and escape literature.

  10. How interesting. I have to write at a computer, but it can be a distraction, at times. I do think Hensher’s quote is very insightful; I’ve never heard of the advantages of reading novels pitched from such a perspective.

  11. No phone, no computer or other disturbances and out pops a novel. Art requires sacrifice. No distractions is fine, but my back would never allow me to write for a sustained amount of time on a sofa arm no matter how good the writing might be!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Frank.
      Hard to have no distractions. I tend to do most of my writing using a desk-top. I still have Windows XP and when it’ll crash I’ll use my computer just for Word…then maybe I won’t be tempted to go online so often on my Windows 7 laptop.
      Sorry to hear about your back troubles.

  12. Good to know that someone noteworthy writes in my same style. I have a big office with two desks, which also gets filled with papers and I don’t like to work in there. I like to write near the end of my kitchen table with my books strewn across the table and moved each night before dinner, onto the floor in their respective files in my family room where I keep my laptop and have also moved in my desktop too, which has effectively turned into my office as well. I sometimes write on the arm of my sofa there as well. It’s funny the habits of comfort we develop; where we feel most comfortable to get into creative thought.

      • Lol Carol, it seems you may be right about books taking over my house. And now we are thinking of moving which frightens me to have to build my little nests all over again. 🙂

  13. I meet my ideal writing goals so rarely that rewarding myself seems a bit unjustified. 😉 But I do enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when it happens. I’ll occasionally make writing notes longhand in a notebook, but I can’t do it for long. My fingers are far too accustomed to a keyboard these days!

    • I’m with you about the keyboard. But, I’m also thinking that I should go back to long hand now and then just to see what it’s like and whether it helps with inspiration. I just got a critique on a chapter from a novel i’m working on and so I’ll experiment with this.
      Maybe you’re too hard on your ideal writing goals. 🙂

  14. Pingback: The Extrapolation Temptation | Spirit Lights The Way

  15. I find sitting at a desk looking at a blank wall quite uninspiring, so I write most often on the go and in cafes. When my husband asks me when I’m going to write that million-dollar novel, I say when you build me a loft room with a view of the mountains 😉

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