The Writer's Shack: A Dwelling for Inspiration

The Writer's Shack, where Falmouth native T.M. Murphy has built much inspiration for his writing.
Sam Houghton/iOcapecod - The Writer's Shack, where Falmouth native T.M. Murphy has built much inspiration for his writing.

This is the first of a series exploring artists and their art spaces

Whether Falmouth author T.M. Murphy is working on his latest novel, teaching writing classes, or visiting schools for speaking engagements, he draws a great deal of inspiration from his hometown environment, especially The Writer’s Shack, a building on his property in Falmouth Heights, which has always been a creative writing space and foundation for his work.

Murphy wrote his first book, “The Secrets of Belltown,” while living in The Writer’s Shack. He has since published five additional books in the Belltown Mystery series for children, the fantastical tale “Saving Santa’s Seals,” the young adult novel “The Running Waves,” co-written with his brother Seton Murphy, and is currently working on his first adult crime novel.

He teaches writing at Boston College and for the past 17 summers has been teaching “Just Write It” youth classes at The Writer’s Shack. This past year, he expanded his offerings to adult writing classes and, although he no longer lives there, often tells his students that “it all started right here in this shack.”

Murphy credits his mother, Margaret Murphy, of Falmouth for the foresight to renovate the former family garage in the late 1980s. At the time, Murphy was in college and surrounded closely in age by three sisters, and his mother, he said, recognized that he needed a place to call his own.

Murphy's mother explained that as teachers, both she and her husband, James Murphy, saw “value in writing, in expression,” and recalled that at the time her son “was writing, and wanted to write.”

It was significant, she noted, that “the property was zoned for business” (it even had a history as an egg and vegetable stand). She remembered thinking, “Why not go for it?”

She employed a retired handyman whose poor eyesight meant she ended up assisting in the construction. There were no blueprints and fixtures were acquired frugally. “We grabbed a window” leftover from a friend’s project, she said.

But the most important aspect of the project was that the space became “comfortable and safe,” she said.

Today, the exterior of the building resembles a simple Cape cottage, with painted gray shingles, white trim and a black painted door in the center of two large colonial style windows. A black sign with gold lettering, created by friend and builder Sean Keating of SMK Builders, adorns the peak.

Walls of reclaimed rough wood paneling and painted exposed studs and planks split the down-to-earth interior. A spare kitchen table, two chairs and an antique fridge in the smaller room evoke days past when the space doubled as accommodations.

An eclectic mix of furniture, including several couches, create a look at the intersection of rustic and shabby chic in the main room. Posts and beams support a second-level loft, enclosed by a repurposed white wood railing. Stacks of notebooks are visible on the shelves of a variety of cabinets and chests.

Mementos line the window sills: a distressed wooden oar; a starfish; trophies; small statues; and a shiny black stone, a gift from a parent. Signs from neighborhood businesses long gone, including Capers, and those nodding to the Murphy’s Irish heritage, such as Guinness, hang on the walls.

When he first moved in, Murphy said that the place quickly became a hangout for friends and gained the name of “The Shack.” “There were lots of parties there,”  he said.

As he began establishing a writing routine, he informed friends that it had become “The Writer’s Shack.”

A WRITER'S INSPIRATION

 

These days, Mr. Murphy divides his time between his home office, The Writer’s Shack and his local coffee shops. In fact, his routine often includes regular morning trips to Coffee Obsession in Falmouth.

 

“These places, they are part of your creative process,” said Murphy.

“Seton laughed and replied, ‘Good luck with that!’” as the door swung shut behind him.One of the first days he set to work in the shack, Murphy had just finished giving himself a pep talk when his younger brother, Seton Murphy, invited him to the beach. The temptation seemed like a test but decidedly, he said, “I told my brother, ‘I’m going to write a book.’"

Looking back at the exchange, Murphy laughed and said he enjoyed the opportunity to return the teasing, when he and Seton co-authored “The Running Waves” together approximately three years ago.

“The Running Waves,” like many of Murphy’s books, is a work of fiction that grew out of real-life experiences, people and places. The Writer’s Shack has been a crucial location in which Murphy has been able to draw inspiration on these ideas. But it has also provided some story ideas of its own and grown into a place where writers support each other.

During one class, Mr. Murphy’s cat, Stanley, dragged a squealing rabbit into The Writer’s Shack. He improvised on the spot and defused the situation with an impromptu tall tale, telling students that he had thus trained the cat. He conjured a quick writing assignment based on the critters and now refers to Stanley as his “teacher’s assistant.”

On another occasion, an old friend stopped by the shack unexpectedly, provoking chatter and sparking the wild imagination of his young students. The friend, slow-driving passersby or other neighbors can end up as a basis for character study exercises.

Attracted by the sign out front, curious summer tourists from around the world also generate ideas.

At the end of classes, students literally make their mark on the supporting beams of the structure of the loft. Their inspirational sayings and signatures as well as student posters, framed newspaper articles, class group photos and book covers from his novels aren’t simply decoration, Murphy said, but serve as inspiration.

Murphy now lives in the home next to the unheated Shack with his wife, Vanessa. He completes the bulk of his writing in his home office during the off-season. But a trunk full of letters from students and fans of his books offers inspiration when he finds himself staring at the blank page. “I just pull one out and read it,” he said.

These days, Mr. Murphy divides his time between his home office, The Writer’s Shack and his local coffee shops. In fact, his routine often includes regular morning trips to Coffee Obsession in Falmouth.

“These places, they are part of your creative process,” said Murphy.

Murphy feels that The Writer’s Shack also “rooted” her son in his community. Without such a space, she said, “he might have left the area, like a lot of young people.”

For the future, Murphy imagines a cozy work space in his attic, which as a result of recent storm damage to trees, now has a view of Vineyard Sound.

But The Writer’s Shack, he said, “The Shack changed my life.”

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