Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tomboy in a tree - Miriam Halahmy


This is my first post for ABBA and I've been looking forward very much to getting started. I've been thinking about all the places I have written over the years, right the way back to childhood and how the places we choose to write in show something of who we are.

I was a tomboy as a child - not a term used nowadays, thank goodness. Girls are encouraged to be adventurous in 2010 but back in the black n' white fifties my mother expected me to wear nice dresses and behave decorously. I was a massive disappointment. I wanted to be a cowboy and ride my horse across the range. And I loved climbing. Today I would probably be a free runner - I was the best at tight rope walking garden walls. But there were not too many rock faces in west London, so if I wanted a proper climb which took me way above the neighbourhood streets, I had to find a good tree. And climbing trees was not just about the adventure. It was also about finding a quiet and inspiring place to write. I chose trees with good broad branches which I could tuck myself into way above the teeming streets and parks of London and away from our noisy boisterous family home. With my notebook and pencil and an apple to keep the wolf from the door, I could sit happily scribbling away or simply daydream peacefully into the London sky.

I have written in many different places since childhood. I don't climb trees any more but I still seek adventures. Most recently I went on a trip to the Arctic Circle and found myself totally alone in snow bound forests, where nothing moved and there wasn't even the sound of a bird. The hunters told us that to get close to their prey they have to use skis because the silence in the forest is so complete. A paradise for writers. No Facebook, mobiles, sirens, heavy metal beat from an IPod on the tube, just the deepest silence I have ever experienced. Highly recommended.

I have written in cafes in the Latin Quarter in Paris where I lived for six months after uni, drinking red wine and smoking Disque Bleu and imagining that Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir would walk in and strike up a deep and meaningful conversation with me. I have written in cafes in most of the cities I have visited over the years, from Oslo to Marseilles to Belfast just a year after the start of the Troubles. In the Old City of Jerusalem, in the seventies, we had favourite cafes where they served tea in glasses with mint and turkish coffee with hell ( cardomom). Next door the great tanoors, clay ovens, produced mounds of pita bread and at midday the Imams would call to Allah, their voices skimming above our heads without the help of microphones.

I have written in the waiting room of a prison where a friend was incarcerated after a miscarriage of justice and composed my letter of protest to the local paper after incorrect reporting. They published the letter and later on I wrote a poem, Visiting Jack, included in my collection, Cutting Pomegranates : ...no appeal allowed/banged up from five/ he washes in his cell, listens to the radio/ pegs out socks, writes.....
In December 2007 I was a Writer in Residence at the Brick Lane Art Gallery Peace Camp. I invited people to contribute to a Wall for Peace. But they told me they felt numb, had no idea how to bring about peace. So I wrote a poem to give everyone a place to start.... sweat for peace, pierce for peace/ tune your guitar/ swipe your Oyster card/ sink your difference for peace.....
Nowadays my favourite places to write are my local coffee bars. I have a favourite table in Costa Coffee in Golders Green and have written two novels there in the past three years. I have just started a third. This is my Hayling Cycle for Young Adults. The novels are all set on Hayling Island and are stand alone novels, but a minor character from the first book becomes a major character in the second book and so on. The books deal with contemporary gritty issues, such as the plight of failed asylum seekers, the terrors of the drugs scene and repairing family loyalties after betrayal. The whole cycle has been taken by Meadowside Childrens' Books and publication will be finalised very soon.

I love getting out early in the morning,usually before eight, walking up the road to get the blood and the adrenalin whirling, stepping into the shoes of my characters. I know all the barristas in Costa and they are intrigued by the progress of my work. I find the background noises, the hiss of the coffee machines, the chat with the regulars, the music, all blend into one soft chorus and help me to focus on the work in hand. The strong Italian coffee gives me the required lift and I always begin by ringing the better half while my laptop boots up.
Writing in coffee bars has been part of my life for so long I don't know what I'd do if they all closed down. Perhaps I'd end up writing in trees again.
Where do you write?

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11 comments:

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Great first post to ABBA, Miriam, thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Nice to find a fellow tree climber too! ;-)
Funny, though, I've never tried it, but I doubt I could ever write in a coffee bar, I'd be too busy people watching and taking acerbic notes... To write, I have to have utter quiet - and warmth. So my study, with its piles of books and assorted colourful nick-nacks and paintings does very nicely.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Me too! I'd get too high on coffee and distractions. Although I did write a novel on a beach which won the M-net Award.(in longhand not on a laptop!)Welcome to ABBA Miriam! A great post... and great photographs too!

Leslie Wilson said...

Fantastic post - I always write in my study and am freaked out by the fact that I'll have to go elsewhere in the next fortnight, for a day or so while a new carpet gets put in there - but I am fascinated by your mobile habits - and you set the scenes so wonderfully, and photographs, too!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Thanks folks, its very interesting all this coffee bar stuff. I run writing workshops and when I tell people I write in coffee bars lots of people go off and do the same and love it. But we all have our own habits and I just follow my instincts most of the time. Currently that involves reliving my rock climbing days. ( Don't ask.)

Katherine Langrish said...

I'm an indoor girl. Has to be my workroom or I'd get too distracted!

Rosalind Adam said...

Gosh, Miriam. You're so brave. I've never climbed a tree. I've always been too afraid of falling. I've written poetry in the woods though and I've produced haiku in a hospital waiting room but other writing has to be done at our large oak table in the dining room at home.

Good luck with your Hayling Cycle.

Nicky said...

Hi MIriam. I can work anywhere and nowhere it sort of depends if I want to do it or not. I usually work at my desk but trains, buses,coffee shops, pubs, gardens anywhere will do.

Lucy Coats said...

Finally got here, Miriam, now that I have 'bednet. Nicky S, you and me...three little girlies up in a tree. R-e-a-d-i-n-g, (and for me, spying on neighbours for writing material (not NOW!!)). I write in my lovely office overlooking green fields, river and sheep. with an optional deskdog lying between keyboard and screen. I think I should find the peace and quiet of the Arctic very inspiring though.

Stroppy Author said...

What a lovely first post Miriam, thank you! I'm with you - I write in coffee shops whenever I can. But since Borders closed my regular spot is gone and I'm still searching for another. Maybe that's why I'm not getting any writing done...

kate said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://toddlergirls.net

Miriam Halahmy said...

Thanks Kate and glad you found us!