Oxford reportedly has more published authors per square mile than anywhere else in the world - not a surprise for a city with so many literary links. As well as being a popular setting for stories, such as Brideshead Revisited, Gaudy Night and Northern Lights, Oxford, and Oxfordshire in general, is an inspirational place for writers to work. Here are my top ten places for taking that difficult but necessary step of actually sitting down to write.
1. The Story Museum
If you're lacking ideas or energy, The Story Museum is buzzing with both. Find a quiet spot in one of the galleries, where you can take inspiration from displays or installations based on your favourite stories. Make up a new character in the Changing Room, and get the Talking Throne to announce them. Then head to the Story Café for some bookish snacks and drinks to keep you going while you write. You can also join in the National Writing Project sessions, which run a couple of times a month and take a playful approach to creative writing.
2. Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum
The Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum are two treasure-houses of writing prompts under a single roof. Explore the exhibitions, look at the stuffed bear or shrunken heads, think of original ways to describe the collections of glistening gems (protip: don't use 'glistening'), or settle in for a long writing session in the upstairs café. With excellent coffee and cake from Mortons, and a view of the main gallery (including the herd of dinosaur skeletons), it's a fantastic place to spend an hour or so on your work-in-progress.
3. Common Ground Café & Social Workspace
Want somewhere relaxed but work-orientated? Common Ground Café & Social Workspace on Little Clarendon Street is a new pop-up enterprise that is designed to be a low-stress place to study or work. You can stay as long as you like, use the free WiFi, and if you need a break, join in with the regular yoga classes or sit in on some panel discussions.
4. Port Meadow
If it's a sunny day, why not take your writing outside and wander down to Port Meadow? Take a blanket, some water and some snacks, and find a spot by the river or in the fields. Depending on the day, there will probably be someone selling ice creams nearby, and if you want to meet friends for a drink once you've finished working, you're not far from The Perch or The Victoria. Just make sure to keep an eye out for Port Meadow's horses - they're known to bite if they don't get sugar lumps!
5. Oxford Brookes University
If your writing has taken you up to Headington, you can always grab a coffee and a table in the social space in the John Henry Brookes building. You'll be surrounded by studying students (which you may or may not find helpful - personally, being around other people working can often shame me into getting my head down), and you can keep yourself going courtesy of the campus Starbucks or student union shop. In the summer, head outside to the main concourse and take inspiration from the sculptures.
6. Oxfordshire County Library
Sometimes writing requires research, so it's off to the library! You don't necessarily need access to the Bodleian, either - Oxfordshire County Library is stuffed with non-fiction on a huge range of subjects, as well as a fiction section that can help you work out what's already been done. Its recent revamp also means it's a comfortable place to work, and the helpful staff can point you towards anything you need to know. (And if you need a break from writing, you can pop into the Makerspace and see what's going on - there are loads of different weekly events that you can join in!)
Heading out of the city and into Oxfordshire, there are plenty of great places for writers in Oxford's satellite towns.
7. The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury
The Mill Arts Centre is a cultural hub, running workshops, staging plays, and providing a venue for festivals, exhibitions and community gatherings. With comfy seats and a cafe/bar, plus a good view of the canal with its many narrowboats, joggers and dogwalkers, it's a great place to people-watch and do some freewriting.
8. The Wallingford Museum
If you're writing your debut detective novel or your mystery thriller, then seek inspiration from the Queen of Crime and have a look around the Wallingford Museum, which has a whole collection dedicated to Agatha Christie. There aren't too many places inside the museum where you can sit and scribble, but you can always store away your ideas for a follow-up writing session at The Waterfront Cafe.
9. Hurst Water Meadow, Dorchester-on-Thames
Another one for a sunny day's writing, the Hurst Water Meadow is 25 acres of grass, flowers and riverside by the Thames. Think and walk, look at the site of the medieval monastery (the surviving part of which forms Dorchester Abbey), and jot down a few ideas.
10. North Leigh Roman Villa, Witney
If you're writing your own Roman Mysteries or I, Claudius, or if you're thinking of taking a time-travel twist with your writing, you can't go wrong with a visit to North Leigh Roman Villa. It's easy to visualise what the villa would have looked like in its heyday, as the floors and foundations are still highly visible. Its best feature, though, is the mosaic floor, which is still in fantastic condition.