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The environment in which we write has always been vital to creating a quality piece of literature, but just how much does environment affects the content and style of our writing? asks Alex Teyen.

In response to this question I decided to experiment with different writing
environments to observe how the atmosphere of my surroundings saturates my work.
To achieve this I visited three distinct environments in which to write: The Holy
Trinity church in Hull, a park in Sunderland and night bus from Hull to York. My
aim was to explore the locations, spend some time getting a feel for their inherent
atmosphere, ponder some of the striking features of each environment and then free
write a short piece of fiction. I then analysed what I had written looking for feature
of the text that had been inspired by the environment. At first I began simply free
writing in the Holy Trinity church but soon realised that I was merely describing my
surroundings and thus defeating the object of my experiment. So I decided the best
course of action was to write around the barest framework of a plot. So, to show how
the environment had affected my writing in each place I based each piece around
the same straightforward premise: A man is walking somewhere. This allowed the
environment to affect the writing on a subconscious level rather than a simple account
of what I could see. Below are the results.

Holy Trinity Church: Immediate impressions

Upon arriving at the grand church I was instantly struck by a notion of monumental
and ancient authority. The church’s towering walls and imposing gothic spires were
responsible for much of this impression; however, the structure itself seemed to
emanate its own personality as the pre-conceptions of Christianity through the ages
crept into my mind. My head became full with thoughts of the crusades and the
bloody Old Testament juxtaposed with the kindness of organisations such as Christian
Aid and the loving teachings of Jesus.

I took some time to sit in the pews and let the atmosphere sink in and to clear my
mind, then I began to write.

I am walking the path of the ancients. I am walking the path that all men must walk.
My footsteps echo miles above in the black dull vaults of the world. The bones under
my naked feet crack and crumble into dust with every step that I take, beneath are
tattered tapestries of empires and kings. The shrieking wind blows madly; its fists and
fingers carry scent of lilacs and the taste of coal.

Onward I march though I know not the way, year after year and day after day. Ever
onward I march in both the lead and in tow, to the throne above or the throne below.


Upon reviewing my work it is clear to see the effect that the environment had on the
text. The simple motif of ‘the man walking somewhere’ becomes an introspective
metaphorical journey through the life of a man who is conflicted over the paradoxes
of Christianity. The path that the man walks becomes a path through life, which

has philosophical and theological connotations. The enormity and age of the church
found is way into the text in the lines ‘My footsteps echo miles above … vaults of the
world’. The juxtaposition of Christianity is reflected in the text by the wind that both
smells of pleasant lilacs but also tastes coal. The final line mentioning ‘the throne
above or the throne below’ also reflects this juxtaposition whilst keeping in theme
with the two choices that can be made in Christian teachings: Good or evil, Heaven
or Hell. Finally the cadence of the text has the sound of a prayer or chant, specifically
the rhyming couplets at the end of the piece.

Dalton-le-Dale Park, Seaham: First Impressions

During my afternoon experiencing the glorious sun in the Seaham park I noticed
the effect that illumination can have on the disposition. Visually, everything looked
almost unreal in its intensity; colours were brighter and everything appeared to be in
sharp contrast. I was overcome with a sense of appreciation for my life and a feeling
of wonder that such simple things could be so beautiful. Whether because of the Sun’s
rays causing my body to release endorphins, or otherwise, I was overwhelmed by the
notion that no matter what problems I had in my life or how difficult things got, there
would always be such beautiful things in the world and felt my worries melt away.

I spent an hour or so soaking in my surroundings, then, with my running plot in mind,
I began to write for the second time.

I’m on the road and it’s sunny out, the kind of sun that isn’t too hot but fills you with
an ambient warmth. It’s getting towards late afternoon; the sun is shining orange-
yellow through the leaves along the boulevard. Everything is so bright, so vibrant
and so beautiful. I can scarcely believe it exists. I keep putting one foot in front of
the other on the surreal dreamy pavement. I have no idea where I am going and I
couldn’t care less.

My wife left me yesterday. She left in the middle of the night but by the time the
glorious morning came I could see too clearly to care. It’s been on the cards for a
while and I’m better off without her.

I lost my job today. They called me into the office and told me there wasn’t any place
for a guy like me and thanked me for understanding. And as the midday sun pierced
the office blinds, illuminating my face, I did understand.

This world is too beautiful for despair. How can you feel bad on a day like today?


It is clear to see from the text that the beauty of the day has infiltrated this piece
in ways both descriptive and metaphorical. The text is filled with descriptions of a
glorious day and its dreamlike intensity is made a focus. The idea of the bright and
sunny day is also made into a metaphor for the brighter side of life and the sun’s
illumination becomes the illumination of the mind from the darkness of worries.
The metaphors of the shuttered office and the dark night being enlightened by the
clear day denote that, although life is full of trials and tribulations, there is always a
brighter side and things can almost always be overcome.

Night Bus, Hull to York: First Impressions

The things that instantly struck me about the dark drive, and stuck with me for the
full journey, were the strong feelings of loneliness and isolation. Not a desperate
loneliness, more of melancholy, wistful desire for contact. This sentiment was
compounded further by the fact that the front portion of the upstairs lights were out,
exactly were I was sitting. It was raining quite heavily against the windows which
provided a comforting background noise against the oppressive darkness.

It’s late, after midnight. The rain is drumming on the window panes of Chicago’s
Main Street. Feels like thirteen o’clock, the forgotten hour, the hour that only I exist.
I walk the cold streets alone, the smoke of my last cigarette curls up into the night
above. Not a soul stirs and I keep walking, my footsteps lost in the staccato machine
gun fire of the rain on glass. It’s just me and the city in the dark together. Like frigid
lovers we know each other well but I do not sleep within her. For my dear Chicago
never sleeps. Even now she winks at me with traffic light eyes and calls to me from the
deep throats of her alleys.

I walk at the forgotten hour, through night and rain and no one. Until we meet again,
my Chicago.


The sense of isolation has definitely permeated this text. The entire piece is a stream
of consciousness with no other sentient contact interrupting the narrator, giving
this passage a sense of solipsism. The emergence of pathetic fallacy is an obvious
reflection of the writing environment, creating the almost clichéd tone of the text.
The personification of the city is also a reflection of the loneliness and gloomy
environment in that the human mind often projects the simulation of life or movement
onto otherwise inanimate objects when there is a lack of mental stimulus.

Over the course of my experiment I have found ample evidence to conclude
that writing environment has a direct influence on the unconscious mind that is
reflected in the resulting texts. The effect upon the mind is deep enough to not only
create inspired descriptions and emotions, but also create metaphors related to the

I believe that to create truly inspired work, the best course of action is to find an
existing locale that matches closely, in look or in feel, the milieu you wish to fashion
in your writing. Spending time in such an area will allow you to write with realism
and believability as the environment permeates your senses. Conversely I would
advise against attempting to form an atmospheric and heartfelt ambience or setting
in an environment that is in opposition to either the mood of the location or the
appearance, as the surroundings may affect your writing in a way that is detrimental
to your work.

Alex Teyen is a young writer based at York St John.