Do writing and renovating have anything in common?

Securing the deck planks

I’ve happily occupied the old neglected Bristol Hess school bus on our property as my writer’s den. Dilapidated from the outside, it has a very cozy feel on the inside, at least in my opinion, but I can imagine that more conservative people are shaking their head at the thought of spending so much time in there. No tap water, no toilet and a lot of fresh air that wafts through the gaps around the windows and doors.

Our bus with newly built deck

We bought the bus years ago after we purchased a piece of land nearly 4 hours’ drive north from where we lived. We quickly discovered that a tent was not our thing, and a house was not within our budget so the bus arrived. It is 12 meters long and 2.4 meters wide.  A great improvement, we thought, from an airbed surrounded by canvas that, at every turn, rubbed our shoulders.  The bus created heaps of space for a couple in their fifties who dreamt of living in the Bay of Islands.

A bit of a mess

We planned to do it up but, in the meantime, occupied it after we took out all the seats, created a makeshift kitchen and bought a proper bed at the local secondhand shop.

But, a year later, we very unexpectedly got ourselves a little cottage from one of those house hauling companies who have dozens of do-up houses, and we had it trucked to the site. We called the rectangle box with sloping roof a cottage, which was a very nice name for a 30 square meter empty shell with a large deck on two sides but no railings. We dramatically improved the house over the years, and the name stuck so it’s still our cottage.

In those early days, if you stood on the unfenced deck, we had a most spectacular view over undulating paddocks and a strip of ocean on the horizon, but we didn’t dare step too close to the edge, afraid of diving down 2 meters onto the hard-baked clay. A proper path was not yet carved and the area around the house looked like Mars, all rubble and dark earth.

Our glasses were rose-tinted twice over, and we had no idea how much hard work is involved in creating a beautiful home from nearly nothing. We had absolutely no clue, and because of that, we’re now living in a lovely house. If we’d known, we wouldn’t have started. Not in a million years, as it would’ve been too daunting, too time consuming and too laborious.

A truck traveling down a dirt road

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After we paid the bill, drank the champagne and celebrated our good luck for buying such a lovely house, an oversized truck moved it to our section, and the site preparation and installing of the house began. Big diggers had to widen the track along the fence line and down the hill.

Like a spider, wheel by wheel, the huge truck navigated backwards over the ditch and the fence, lifting and lowering each wheel as required, and centimeter by centimeter reversed the fifty meters of widened track between the row of huge conifers and the steep drop, so it could take the u-bend at the end and drive nose first down the freshly carved S-shaped path that leads to the spot.  

Heavy equipment rolled, pushed and butted the house up against the slope and onto the poles, and we became the official owners of a house. At the end of the day we climbed, by lack of steps, onto a heap of dirt, scrambled up a large rock and stepped from there onto the deck in front of the 5 x 6-meter wooden structure we called home.

We danced and sat on our beach chairs with a glass of wine and felt like the king and queen of the castle. We carted all our stuff from the bus down to the cottage and dreamt up designs about how to make the best of this tiny space with the small budget available.

An empty shell, with only the floor, walls, ceiling and sliding doors in place, needs a lot of work before it’s anywhere near to cozy, but those first months, we felt like royalty. It was our house and we could clearly see its potential. That potential took over ten years to manifest itself and a thousand trips to and from our apartment in the big city.

Every third or fourth weekend, every holiday and every long weekend consisted of greasing our elbows and getting on with the job. We added two smaller buildings and a deck in between, one building is our ensuite with bathroom the other is our utility room, which is a nice word for the pantry, laundry and shed.

The whole operation reminds me of writing a novel. When you start you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. You add characters and situations and along the way you have to make it work. ‘Rules of Enchantment’ started that way. Sometimes I had a lack of ideas while at other times I had an overabundance but the characters or happenings didn’t fit so I needed to review and discard.

With just a vague idea of what was involved in writing a book and no clue what to do when I’d finished it, I just started and I’m so glad I did.  Because now I’ve written a fantastic book. It was a beautiful journey with pitfalls and setbacks but mainly with highlights and moments of great elevation.

As with having the cottage trucked to the site, over time I learnt to navigate the bends and corners of writing. As with renovating our house, I dreamt up designs and plans and frequently revised them but, eventually – as I did with the house – I created a fantastic place I call mine. A place that makes me think, laugh and cry. I’m now in the process of re-reading and revising my book, going over the content with a fine comb, and it makes me incredibly proud that I created something so beautiful.