I live in Dorchester, the county town of Dorset. This is one of the views from my house. Even on a winter’s day the outlook is, well, pleasing. Fortunately, the window in the study is set too high in the wall to cause a distraction when I’m writing at my desk. But it is lovely to stare at the water meadows whenever I’m taking a break. Thomas Hardy describes the town in The Mayor of Casterbridge as standing, ‘clean-cut and distinct, like a cheeseboard on a green table-cloth’. I imagine it is this view to the north that is the cloth.
If I turn my head to the right, the view is completely different. Look carefully and you’ll notice the razor wire on top of the wall. This is Dorchester Prison, a Victorian building that holds 250 male prisoners: half on remand, the other half convicted prisoners, including some serving life prison sentences.
With two such different views, looking through the window always helps in generating ideas for writing. While the country views assist with the description of place, it’s looking at the prison that pricks my curiosity. In the summer I can hear shouts as the prisoners communicate through the open windows of their cells. And walking through the town, the prison officers are distinctive in their black uniforms. When I tell people I live next door to a prison, they wonder why I haven’t taken up crime writing. It’s never too late, I think.