Thursday, 25 June 2009

Other Places : by Penny Dolan

They’re there in Julia Cameron’s books. They’re there in tales of writing lives & communities. There’s one in Edinburgh whose fame is based on what was written there and by whom. You may already spend hours busy in one, but I hadn't.

Writing in a cafe wasn’t something I’d ever actually done, not as a pen and paper activity in itself. Partly this was because I live close enough to town to be home in five minutes. “Why pay for coffee when it’s free at home?” The puritanical soul. The writer’s income.

Partly because, blessed with a large workroom, going to a cafe felt slightly too precious and pose-y. “I need even more space for my great gifts to spread themselves, darlings. Bye!” Swish of silk scarves. Wave of finely gloved hand. I don't think so.

Partly because, with someone else home here - a rather nice someone else as it happens - I sort of felt I shouldn’t.

But mostly because those old echoes of well-worn guilt, as in “You are getting on with your homework in that room, aren’t you, Penny?” made me feel uncomfortable about leaving my desk and computer and seeking out what felt such a selfishly indulgent writing place.

Then, earlier this week, I actually did it. I called into a small local café with no other intention than to sit and write for a while, at a time when the place wasn’t too busy. It was a small café. The mug was a generous size. Nobody stared at me much. The music and chatter wasn’t a bother. It felt sociable rather than solitary.

And I could work. I didn’t write much actual story, but I did feel free to really think and puzzle about my characters in a way I hadn’t at home. I could not hear the swarm of small attention-seeking Things To Do that buzz loudly around the house. It felt very good, and very productive, even without any laptop. I even overheard something that gave me a small Idea. I think I am a café convert.

So, where do you escape to write?


Paul Lamb said...

I escape to the wee small hours of the morning when quiet and solitude are all mine alone. I pretty much have to enter the dream state of my story, and the slightest distraction back to the "real" world pulls me out of it quickly. I don't think that I could ever do serious writing in a cafe or even a library. I suppose I could do a lot of note taking and maybe some prewriting, but the concentrated and focused work of creating fiction, never. And, yes, I do consider that a handicap.

Gillian Philip said...

Coincidentally, Penny, I had my first 'cafe writing' experience on Monday, and I was amazed at how much I got done. It's not that I don't have a quiet space at home, but like you say it's those little things calling out to you. We're packing up the house in preparation for a move, so there's always 'Oh, I could just fill that box while I'm thinking...'

Anyway, it was my daughter's swimming lesson, and the cafe was right there, so I took my notebooks. In half an hour I got more written than I had in the previous two days. No emails/Facebook definitely helps!

Noise doesn't bother me - I've learned to write with a small twin hanging onto my leg screaming - but it's definitely the (other) little distractions that are fatal. I'm going back to that cafe next week.

adele geras said...

Iknow I sound very old indeed but I was writing in cafes when JKR was but a toddler! I wrote while my daughter was at playgroup. Couldn't be bothered to go home and then come back so used to repair to a cafe called Silvio's in Didsbury Manchester, which is long gone. I wrote the whole of a book called Apricots at Midnight in Silvio's. It was terrific fun. Nowadays, I'm too lazy to make the trip just to write...but it would be good to get away from emails, blog commentary boxes and other distractions.

Anonymous said...

Hi all!
Interesting comment, Paul. Maybe I wasn't writing seriously in that cafe, but I was certainly THINKING WRITING very, very seriously. I've never been able to do the late night writing. Midnight and dawn writing time always sounds wonderful, but decided my body just isn't made that way.

Gillian, love the thought of the swimmimng pool splashing away in the background as a writing accompaniment, and an admirable use of time. It certainly is being away from emails and such like that helps the focus.

And Adele, love your memory of the Didsbury cafe, though scan-reading it through without me specs,I first thought that Apricots at Midnight was the name of the cafe. What a wonderfully sensuous place that sounds! Can smell the scentsof coffee and spices and delicious food now. Mmm.. Not sure it would be an industriously good writing cafe though - though maybe for you, Paul? Happy writing, everyone.

Anonymous said...

Oh bother these boxes. Anonymous is me, folks. Penny

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I wrote my funniest novel in longhand on a beach one lazy summer. This doesn't quite have the same punch as 'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink' ... which line I shall always remember from my sister taking the part of Cassandra in a play when she was about 14 and I was 7. From then on I aspired to being a writer and recall trying to climb onto my grandmother's hen house... because wasn't that where writers wrote their best pieces?

Stroppy Author said...

I've written in cafes for years and I still regularly cycle three miles to work in the cafe in Borders (combination of coffee and library) - even though I have an upstairs office, a rooftop desk, a downstairs office AND a library at home I could work in... and sometimes even someone to make me coffee. And I spent most of last summer writing in a monastery garden or perched on the edge of a fish pond near Rome. I just get more done out of the house. No - I get 'different' done out of the house!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Penny here again. Such wonderful writing time images in my mind now, with Diane's exotic beach, as well as the dramatic blocks of dark shadow and bright sun in your monastery garden, Stroppy Author! Lovely places to dream about while I'm in my rather ordinary cafe with a rather ordinary view of a busy road junction. And a rather grand statue of Queen Victoria. (Never mind, somewhere an Italian author stuck on a boring tropical island is writing of the idyll of writing in such an English cafe. :-)