Recently a huge row broke out on a writers’ group when someone complained that people around her in a café were being too loud,
But surely a café is primarily for social interaction rather than as a solo writer’s workplace? Admittedly I am an old lady , well fairly old, but I wasn’t the only one lacking in sympathy. Most people (fellow writers, remember) felt this person had an over-developed sense of entitlement.
Of course writing in cafés is a long held tradition. The following piece appeared in Melbourne ‘s Age newspaper in 1912. A Paris correspondent wrote;
In Paris there is the ordinary café, which charges moderate prices, ranging from 5d to 10d for a consummation. And after you have ordered this consummation you have the right to remain as many hours as you choose. Then there is the extraordinary café, which is usually situated in Montmartre, and which is designed to catch the credulous tourist. Some of these cafes flourish on their past reputation as the resort of seedy geniuses. At the Chat Noir years ago, Maurice Donnay and others who are now celebrated writers, used to recite verses to an audience of kindred spirits. They are now famous and prosperous, and the Chat Noir knows them no more. They have forsaken the joys of Bohemia for that society which they used to despise so profoundly when they did not possess a decent suit between them.
The moral of the above story is, do not expect a cheap cup of coffee from the café where J. K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter novel.
I love this quote from Ernest Hemmingway, another aficionado of scribbling in cafes.
We might need more than a pencil and notebook these days. However, lightweight laptops , plenty of power outlets and free wifi have made things easier. To be honest, free wifi is more a hindrance for the easily distracted such as myself.
Writing is a lonely pursuit and I love the social buzz cafés provide. It would never occur to me to use earphones and play music; that would be defeating the purpose.
I am painfully aware of outstaying my welcome and of not contributing to the profits of the establishment. For this reason it is never a particularly cheap place for me to work.
Someone with experience as both café owner and patron is Michael Idov, the Latvian born author and journalist. Idov and his wife naively opened a café in New York, which went bust after only nine months. It was a little too warm and cosy, and it seems literary types were inclined to linger.
One of my favourite writing spots is Govett’s Café in my village of Blackheath. It’s relatively quiet, inexpensive and the staff are friendly without being intrusive. I tend to write away from home in winter, so soup is my usual choice. Plus a couple of coffees of course.
UPDATE – September 2019 Since I published this piece Govett’s Café has decided to close on Mondays. However, there is always a large wooden table outside in the arcade. I have created my own space here. I buy a takeaway coffee and a cake from somewhere else in the village and work away to my heart’s content. Some people spot me and try to open the cafe’s locked door. If anyone interrupts me, my associate Editor Des quietly hands them of my business cards.
I think the last word on the subject of writing in cafes should go to Idov;
That sounds fair enough to me.
In the true spirit of writers, Idov published a successful novel based on his failed café.
I can’t help wondering whether he wrote the novel in cafés.
UPDATE – I’ve found the perfect winter writing café in the village. Look at that wonderful wood fire. Good grief, who ordered those chips?? Surely not me.