where the writers are
A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but cafes are a girl's best friend....

Last weekend saw me tagging along behind Ricky on a trip to the South coast. I had a couple of free days, and he had some photographs to take. Although entreated to stand around holding a flash, or to stop passers-by from walking in front of the camera, I demurred. "You want me to take two whole days away from the Big Secret Project?" I shouted. "And get stuck in the middle of Chapter Six? I DON'T THINK SO."


The more I work at being a writer, the more it becomes clear that taking any sort of break from writing - especially in the middle of a big project like a novel - is disastrous. There was that one time when we had a holiday and I made the mistake of leaving my notebook at home. When I got back, I lost hours in staring angrily at blank pages, trying to get into a stride that had been unbreakable before we'd gone away. It's not the sort of mistake you're in a hurry to repeat. 

So I shoved my laptop and a notebook into the old rucksack, along with a pair of clean knickers and a travel bottle of shampoo, and joined him in the car. Call me strange (go ahead, everybody does) but when we pulled into Brighton, it wasn't the main shopping street, or the tourist attractions, I was scanning the streets for, but a cafe.

You know the sort of cafe I'm talking about. It's the sort of cafe writers love. It's got mismatched furniture, jumble sale crockery, a clientele that plays Go quietly, and who chat at a non-concentration breaking level, and owners who don't mind customers ordering one cup of tea and staying there four hours. I found one such cafe in The Lanes, a cute place with a colourful array of retrieved furniture, and a synthetic cow-hide rug underfoot. Satisfied that I'd found my working spot for the rest of the afternoon, I plugged the computer in and got to work. 

Despite my highly-strung need for absolute silence when working at home, paradoxically, when working in a public place like a cafe or a library, the quiet level of constant noise around me is comfortably stimulating. There is nothing more inspiring than watching other people eat (discreetly, of course... it's rude to stare) and listening in on their conversations for a couple of hours. Oh come on, it's not just me. You all do it. 

My thanks go out to the owners of this cafe for not ostentatiously clearing up around me as I worked, in an attempt to hustle me out of the place. Their consideration allowed me to get my work done, and I don't doubt that there's a great tradition of letting writers get on with their work by cafe owners, without which the creation of many great works of literature would have been completely scuppered: "I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines give to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that.... you're taking the sugar bowl? Oh, for Christ's sake, please not the sugar bowl. Now I just look like a tramp who came in here to get warm. Thanks." ( (c) F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1926) 

After a couple of hours' work, I felt bad about making one cup of tea last so long, and approached the counter again. The cafe was small enough that I could leave my laptop on the table to keep an eye on it while I ordered another cup of tea, and a slice of cake. "Greedy," the owner said to me as he reached into the Brownie jar with his tongs. I don't know how many slices of cake he thought I'd had in the two hours I'd been there. Seemed like he thought I'd been doing nothing but shoving bits of flapjack into my face continuously, rather than working tirelessly on The Big Secret Project. 

Anyway, it was thanks to his consideration and generosity that I was able to get another chapter finished, and to tidy up a few other smaller bits of work that needed doing. I can't be alone in needing to thank cafe owners up and down the country for their understanding in allowing me to work in their establishments for hours at a time for the price of a hot drink. 

Favourite writing cafes, anybody?  

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Great blog!

Thanks for a great blog, Sarah.

The Lanes is a great place, lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. I wish that all the old antique stores had survived the recession but it's still a great place with a real buzz about it.

Our two all time favourite cafes are in France, but in the UK we are still looking for the right place although there is a wonderful one in Bath that we are very fond of.

We also love Costa because they have places inside Waterstone's bookstores but the little independent cafes, with real charm, those are the ones that we really need to look for.

Hope your book is going from strength to strength. It certainly sounds like it is. :)

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I'll take any cafe, Sarah,

I'll take any cafe, Sarah, that has people coming and going any place from a donuts shop to a elegant one__a cafe is a cafe is a cafe. I wake up everyday and head off to a cafe and their I set up shop and write in the mornings. Once I feel I have gotten what I wanted I am famished so I eat. Afterwords, regardless of the weather I head out for a walk. This is when the insights after hard work done happens. Later that evening I will be out again and take that insight and explore it further. Cafe's of the World are greaaaaaaat.
Great post since I can relate. ____Michael

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Coffee, tea, coffee coffee tea tea

Michael, interesting that you can write in any cafe. I wish I was the same! Most of my writing is done at home, unless I'm away on a road trip somewhere. It's when I'm away from home that I go on the search for a quiet, hospitable cafe to house me for a few hours.

A walk in the afternoon is a part of my routine, too! It's so good for untangling problems and getting the brain reignited. Somebody gave me a copy of "What I talk about when I talk about running" by Murakami for Christmas last year. It's interesting to read his thoughts about the occupational hazards of the writer, e.g. tendency to corpulence, weight gain, over-introspection.... and how he solves them ... by running several marathons a year!

Ryoma, yes I agree, it's hard to find really great cafes in Britain! Seems that our pubby culture makes it hard for truly independent cafes to thrive. I've found a couple of places in the south that I like (one in Cambridge and one in Brighton), but nowhere in West Yorkshire that I really love.... yet. Here's hoping somebody opens one right at the end of my street sometime soon.