How four of the greatest writers in history thrived in their garden sheds

Over the years many writers have found a garden shed to be a perfect place to lock themselves away from everyday life and let their creativity pour out. Rob Crossan celebrates four titans of literature who have made the most of that little spot in the garden.

Using a garden shed as a spot to get away from the business (not to mention the busy-ness) of everyday life is a tempting proposition.

Obviously you’ll have to clear out the old bikes and broken pots first. And you must absolutely not be tempted to buy one of those Wi-Fi extender boxes to extend your internet to your outhouse.

That said, there are other things you can take from these ideas. Be creative, as George Bernard Shaw was with his rotating shed idea; block out the world, as Roald Dahl always did; ensure the view outside is inspiringly beautiful, a la Virginia Woolf; and make sure your shed is a real beauty complete with chimney and fireplace, in the Mark Twain manner.

Get it right and the reward could be productivity you’d scarcely have dared dream of, as these four literary greats demonstrate.


George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw stands outside 'London', the writing shed at the bottom of his garden. Picture: Alamy

George Bernard Shaw stands outside ‘London’, the rotating writing shed at the bottom of his garden. Picture: Alamy

‘People bother me. I came here to hide from them,’ said Shaw, immediately nailing the misanthropic crux of the shed’s appeal to a writer.

It was more than just people that bothered the playwright: lack of illumination was also an issue, apparently, so Shaw got around it by constructing a rotating shed,which he could shift in order to follow the sunlight.

To get the peace he craved to write, he nicknamed his shed London. Anyone popping by to see the great man was told, truthfully, by his staff that Shaw was ‘in London’.


Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's writing hut at Gypsy House, Great Missenden. Picture: Alamy

Roald Dahl’s writing hut at Gypsy House, Great Missenden. Picture: Alamy

The undisputed king of children’s stories famously worked out of a shed at the bottom of his garden in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

The Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden has a recreation of Dahl’s desk in his shed. Pic: Alamy

‘I personally draw all the curtains in the room, so that I don’t see out the window and put on a little light which shines on my board,’ he once stated.

‘Everything else in your life disappears and you look at your bit of paper and get completely lost in what you’re doing’.


Virginia Woolf

The Writing Lodge in the garden at Monk’s House, East Sussex. Monk’s House was the writer Virginia Woolf’s country home and retreat. Picture: Alamy

Virginia Woolf Mrs Dalloway was written almost entirely in a shed the author possessed at Monk’s House in East Sussex.

Barring the occasional visit from T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster, among others, Woolf would spend three hours alone in the shed each day, writing the novel on notebooks that she and her husband, Leonard, would personally bind.


Mark Twain

The octogonal study of author Mark Twain on the grounds of Quarry Farm, Elmira, where he spent many summers. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

The octogonal study of author Mark Twain on the grounds of Quarry Farm, Elmira, where he spent many summers. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

Mark Twain’s sister built an octagonal shed for him to write in when he went to stay with her on her farm in upstate New York. It clearly did his work no harm: his stories featuring Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were written inside it.

You can now see the shed for yourself, as it has been moved to the grounds of nearby Elmira College. His sister’s intentions weren’t perhaps entirely selfless: despising Twain’s pipe-smoking habit, moving him to the shed meant she no longer had to put up with the fumes in her home.