Apparently people who take their laptops to cafés and write are pretentious. On his blog John Scalzi writes: ‘I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said ‘Looking For Sex.’ Go home, why don’t you. Just go.’
I am addicted to writing in cafés. And I hate to disillusion John Scalzi, but it has nothing to do with sex. (Frankly, I had no idea that the ultimate drawcard of editing galley proofs was supposed to result in days of hot libidinous sex.)
I work part-time as a freelance editor. I work full-time as a mother. Yes, I realise that doesn’t seem to add up and now I’m going to throw another factor into the mix. Somewhere between marking-up other writers’ creative works, and the million small and large things three children between the ages of nine and almost-two require, I attempt to claw back some time for my own writing.
Cafés, I tell you, are my salvation. Every Wednesday afternoon when my partner comes home from work early (and sometimes at weekends, too) I escape to a café to do my own writing. It is a sublime kind of bliss. So when Us Folk magazine recently asked me to write about my favourite place in Canberra, there was no contest.
But why cafés? Well, for starters there’s no Internet. I can’t possibly be distracted by Facebook or diverted by the emails constantly pinging into my inbox that relate to ‘real’ work. But it’s more than that. As I wrote for Us Folk, being surrounded by the diversity of humanity, the very stuff of fiction, is energising. Cafés are perfect for those writerly necessities of eavesdropping and people watching. Then there’s the white noise of hissing espresso machines and the buzz of conversation which provides the perfect backdrop, somehow concentrating the mind. And let’s not forget caffeine to feed the muse.
I’m not a fan of JK Rowling’s work, but when it comes to cafés we’re of the same mind. Rowling says: ‘It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writer’s block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to where you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.’
As you can see from the Us Folk pic above, they shot me in one of my favourite cafes, A Bite to Eat. Pretending to do what I do when nobody’s watching was an odd experience. To one side of me was the photographer’s assistant holding a large silver reflector, on the other side was the photographer (the very talented Ash Peak) clicking away. Naturally everyone in the café was watching, openly or in snatched sideways glances. I’m used to being anonymous, but there I was, outside my comfort zone in a place where I’d normally slide right into it. I guess I was literally leaning back thoughtfully with a mug of whatever while I pretended to edit my latest masterpiece. Have I just proved John Scalzi’s point?
Us Folk also interviewed two other Invisible Thread authors, Jack Heath and Omar Musa, and the filmmaker of the Thread book trailer, James Hunter. If you buy a copy of the mag you’ll notice that all three of them are young, good-looking twenty-somethings. That’s because Us Folk’s audience are in their twenties and thirties. So, let’s be frank, I’m really pushing the upper limit. Us Folk is a beautiful new magazine that has just celebrated its first birthday. With gorgeous production values and quirky, interesting content, it’s well worth a look.
Now, please excuse me while I head to a café for a flat white and the company of my muse.