Writing cannot be done in a loud café or in a house chaotic with children and the plaints of a neglected spouse. Too frequently it is done in stolen moments under the pressure of avoided duty or furtively at an office desk while a supervisor is distracted.

The legends of Grub Street, a lane in Augustan London now vanished beneath the Barbican and the last resort for writers down on their luck or insufficiently talented or well-connected to do any better, are replete with tales of starving hacks, hung over from too much cheap port, scribbling frantically in a squalid garret for a grudging publisher’s guinea, surrounded by hungry brats, a wife at the end of her tether and creditors pounding on the door.

Writers need time, space and—ideally—some degree of freedom from the necessity of a disagreeable job to support themselves, as well as the willpower (or the obstinacy) to induce others to take writing seriously. The trouble with writing is that it doesn’t look like work and family and friends have no compunction in interrupting it.

Determined writers have been known to use drastic measures to persuade others to leave them alone. Before joining Knocklofty, one of our writers worked in a tiny cottage close to home which he had rented for peace and quiet. But it was a very attractive cottage with a wonderful view of a beautiful estuary with rolling hills on one side and a spectacular mountain on the other, even though it was quite close to a mildly bustling town.

Word of this place spread among his friends, who took to dropping in on some flimsy pretext—or on none at all—to enjoy the views and, by a cosy log fire in winter or on the veranda in summer, drink his excellent coffee or the even more excellent beer he brewed on the premises to avoid costly visits to bars. Like the majority of writers, he was far from wealthy.

Soon he was receiving six or seven visitors a day, all of them blithely assuming they could take up his time for an hour or so. The work suffered and he began to miss deadlines.

His solution was simple but effective. He put up a flagpole outside the cottage. If a green flag was flying, guests were welcome and a notice on the door limited calls to half an hour; but if the flag was red he was not to be interrupted. People soon got the message, especially after he turned a hose on one or two particularly persistent pests. (Another, to his embarrassment, turned out to be colour-blind and received an unwarranted soaking).

Writers have to be selfish with their time if they are to achieve very much. It may take time, and tact one may not possess, to induce people to leave you alone. This can strain friendships and marriages, but you must make people understand that wrestling with the literary demon is strictly a one-on-one contest.