Hot desking. Shared space. Flexible working arrangements. Just all new phrases for something that already exists, and one that I used to my advantage to author three books in the last 18 months. All three were mostly written within Auckland’s public libraries, a space that I thought would be a temporary measure, but has ended up being a place that I now consider my office.
January 2019 was hot, stinking hot in fact. I had something rather large on my agenda, having just signed my first book deal, but my breeze block shoebox apartment would turn into a blast furnace by the time the sun came up. It was a daunting prospect: a publishing company had selected me to write an entire paperback on the basis of my previous few years’ journalism work, however they didn’t know that the longest piece of writing I’d done in my life up until that point was a 2000 word uni essay for a degree I never finished. The task was simple, just do something around 30 times longer than that. Publishers are great, but they don’t provide you with a place to work, so I’d have to improvise.
I scanned my options. Going to a park seemed like a good idea till I realised I wouldn’t be able to see my laptop screen through the glare. A friend of mine had somewhat successfully tried to jump on the Outer Link bus and stay there all day, but the lack of toilets concerned me. However, the answer was right in the middle of town.
The Central City Library isn’t quite the grand structure that you might find in other cities. It sits in behind a row of takeaway joints on Queen Street, shrouded in scaffolding and cling wrap that made it look all the more utilitarian when I stood before it on my first day of writing. Like they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover, inside is a grand space that provides a desk, free internet and decent air conditioning. Which is all I really needed: when writing a book, you get told to get from start to finish by a certain date. How you get there is completely up to you.
Setting myself up on the second floor, staring at a row of cookbooks and home craft manuals, I got to work and enjoyed the cool climate. Lunch time invariably meant a kebab or the legendary fried chicken from Kai Eatery out the front door. My ‘workmates’ were mostly international students from the surrounding campuses, plus a few retired folks and I’m guessing people in my situation. The library offered them a place to come and work, internet connection for some folks that may not have it otherwise, and a little community of individual industriousness.
After a while, I developed a schedule of going to the gym, heading to my desk at the library, hitting my daily word count and heading out to enjoy the afternoon. I started to recognise the same people every day, raising an eyebrow in greeting before getting down to work.
By March, I had finished my first book Brothers In Black. The publishers were quite pleased with the end result and offered me another deal which I accepted in earnest, but as much as I loved my time at Auckland Library, I wanted a change of scenery. For the next one I went to the Ponsonby library just off the Three Lamps intersection. Downstairs they had a space specifically set up for working, however suburban libraries also serve as community group spaces so once every two week my new office was used by a beginners French conversation class. So I coincidentally picked up a bit of French during the next few months as I wrote my next book, Heroics & Heartbreak: Twelve Months with the All Blacks.
After a year, I was offered the chance to write a coffee table book, and again I switched locations. This time, to the stately Remuera Library, where I shared a space with a music class for toddlers, a charming old Justice of the Peace who I presumed was doing the gig so he could chat to people every week, and The Flying Needles - an elderly knitting group of about a dozen who clacked away while I typed out my third book, often staring at the romance section wondering how hard it would be to pivot to that instead of sports writing.
The last year and a half have been the most prolific of my working life, but none of what I’ve achieved took place in an office. I don’t begrudge anyone that does, but I’m not sad at all that I never once had to get up and battle the cloyingly awful traffic, swiped in through a security door or put up with inane chat in a lift. The library is my shared spot, so feel free to come join me if you need one as well.
Jamie Wall’s new book Facing The Haka, co-authored with Andy Burt and published by Allen & Unwin, is out now. This piece was written at Remuera Library, where he spends most days (pre Alert Level 3).
All Auckland Libraries will be open under Covid-19 Alert Level 2, with appropriate hygiene measures in place - you can also access many of their collections online here