Will Come the Words: Ann Vanderhoof’s (floating) creative space

Read the intro to Will Come the Words: Writers & their creative spaces.


Where Ann sits when she writes in the cockpit.

It can be hard to concentrate above decks, but Ann sometimes writes in the cockpit.


ANN VANDERHOOF lives and writes in Toronto, Canada, and somewhere (everywhere) in the Caribbean.


What I like about my space:

Half the year, I write aboard our 42-foot sailboat, Receta, in the Caribbean. My usual writing space is the main cabin, where I stretch out on the settee with my laptop on (yes) my lap — tthough when I’m up against a serious deadline, I’ll sit upright at the table instead. (Both wings of the table are folded down when we’re not working or eating there.)

Ann Vanderhoof's main creative space, aboard "Receta"

Ann’s main creative space aboard “Receta”

I love the cabin’s natural light: warm and easy on the eyes compared to the hot, white tropical sunlight above decks. The trade winds funnel in through two large overhead hatches and the opening ports on both sides, keeping the space lovely and cool. It’s a calm, comforting place to write, surrounded by mementos of our travels.

The foil Christmas tree is from Grenada; dangling in front of it is a Trinidadian pan man with his steel pan. The baskets on the bulkhead were handmade by Caribs in Dominica; the pull-toy hanging beneath the fan, in Haiti. Keeping an eye on things from his perch on the starboard side is my childhood pal, Curious George, who has been onboard with me since the start of our journey. He listens patiently, smiling serenely, when I complain about how slowly the writing is going.

If I’m having trouble, I sometimes move to the forepeak — essentially our bedroom (visible at the rear of the photo) — because there I can close a door and block out distractions. I also work in the cockpit [see first photo] from time to time — jotting thoughts, solving problems, making lists — but only with a pad and pencil. The strong sunlight makes it impossible to read the screen of my iPad or laptop. It can be hard to concentrate above decks too; depending on where we’re anchored, there may be fish jumping, sea turtles cruising by, frigate birds wheeling overhead, or friends coming by in pirogues or dinghies to visit.


What I write here:

For the last year or two, I’ve focused on writing magazine pieces that grow out of our Caribbean travels, with a special interest in food. Even when I’m not working on a magazine assignment or blogging, I try to make notes every day about life onboard, our adventures, what I’m cooking and eating, and recipes I’m developing. And of course I’m always writing emails.


My favourite writing quote:

One of Ann's many distractions when she tries to write above decks: view from the cockpit in Dominica

One of Ann’s many distractions when she tries to write above decks: view from the cockpit in Dominica

This quote is from A. J. Liebling’s Between Meals. I first came across it in Bill Buford’s 2006 book Heat, and still find it immensely reassuring, when the words aren’t coming.

The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate within the allotted span, enough experience of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol.

My creative space online:

The Spice Necklace

(Yes, my blog is almost a year out of date. My New Year’s resolution is to try to do better in 2014.)


Note from Allyson: I met Ann when I worked as a a freelance editor on her second book, The Spice Necklace. Soon after, at an author reading I organized north of Toronto, Ann entertained an audience of readers with stories about the most appealing combination of topics I, personally, can imagine: travel, cooking, and writing. We’ve kept in touch, and Ann was influential in my choosing Grenada as the destination for my 2013 and upcoming 2014 writers’ retreats.

♦     ♦     ♦

Peek into more writers’ creative spaces:

Michelle Berry, novelist

Christy Ann Conlin, novelist

Stephanie Dickison (series intro), food & lifestyles writer, nonfiction author

Gail Gallant, YA novelist

Robert Rotenberg, thriller novelist

Susan Siddeley, memoirist, poet, founder of Los Parronales Writers’ Retreats


But the essential question is, Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas — inspiration.  If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

~ Doris Lessing


  1. Alison says:

    You have a beautiful writing space. Inspiration should come easily in such an environment. Having read this post I feel inspired to get back to my writing projects today. Delightful!

  2. Wow, how ideal that sounds. Our family spent a year living in Barbados at one point, so I have great fondness for the Caribbean in general, the landscapes, seascapes, food (of course) and above all the people. Thank you for sharing your “floating” writing life.

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