Monday, November 21, 2005

Cafe inspiration - a home baked writing exercise

Earlier this week, The Times published an account of a research programme costing in the region of £140,000. The study examined cafes such as Starbucks and Cafe Nero and came up with such conclusions as:
* cafes are a convivial place to meet friends
* people stop going to a particular cafe if the coffee is no good
* a request to borrow a newspaper is either met with a cold shoulder or a welcoming smile.
Apart from the fact that a lot of writers could have benefitted greatly from that cash - to attend an Arvon course maybe, or just to have a couple of days off work to imerse themselves in writing, the researchers seem to have missed one of the vital points about cafes: their value as safe havens for writers.
We all know of the famous authors ( need I say the JKR words?) who scribble their way to fame and fortune over a mocha-decaff- soy milk-cappucino. (Or perhaps just a black coffee in a chipped mug until that publishing contact is actually signed). How many others (should I admit to this online?) have conducted some very effective and cheap research by stacking a basket of books and retreating to the inhouse coffee shop to make notes in their journal ... and then 'rewarded' themselves for their hard work by choosing a novel from the pile. ( Shame on the bookshops - Foyles in London and Waterstones in Bath, for example, who refuse to presume that a book lover will not dribble their latte on the pages and ban books in their coffee shops. You deserve the sale of the reward book to go to Amazon).
And what about the people who use cafes to carve out precious writing time? A day like mine today- court case in the morning ( no I'm not a criminal I'm a barrister - read my profile) lecture to give in the afternoon, a drive in hideous fog from Liverpool to Manchester for dinner with a very supportve writer friend ( check out her website) , back home to prepare tomorrow's case - does not lend itself to a daily writing practice. But skip breakfast and you travel out of rush hour ( just) which saves you time, which gives you longer for breakfast, which means you can sit in a cafe and think and write before work.
Plus, the environment stimulates the imagination. Try this - it worked for me this morning. Look at the chiller cabinet through the eyes of one of your characters. What would she like to eat in there? ( In my case, Anna, who actually works in a cafe, would like the fromage frais topped with organic mango). Then create conflict - why can't they have it? (In Anna' s Liverpool greasy spoon it might be too expensive for her and the customer's like her to buy). Then go with that - take it to the next step and the next step. (It's the ingredients which are too expensive. Why? Becuase Izzy her employer is in debt. If Izzy is in debt he might have to lay Anna off.) Bingo - new chapter ending, new challenge for Anna who is struggling to set up a new life after fleeing domestic violence, new storyline as she makes plans to help him out of the debt. All because of a chiller cabinet of yoghurts.
Now if only I could have some of that £140,000 to take tomorrow off to write that chapter up!

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