Monday 5 December 2011

Why I’m involved in Creative Cafes

I’m just such a sucker for cafés. It’s almost a default activity. Even though I no longer dare drink coffee other than the one I have first thing with breakfast. I’m tending these days to go for the pot of Earl Grey.  
I almost use a café visit as an artist’s treat or maybe as a reward for having achieved something:  picked up a royalty cheque, completed a project or had a piece of work or a project accepted.  Then, of course, I’m allowed to try the cake as well.  As a celebration.
Yet there is more to it than that.  Being in a café feels to me as if it puts me in contact with my readership. I don’t often write in cafés – I like to write straight on to the computer.  But I do make notes and I enjoy reading other people’s work in cafes.  I often find a café the best place to critique other people’s work.  I like to sit with a pencil in my hand and write straight on to their scripts, even though they stand more chance of being able to read what I say if I do it in Word and use Track Changes.
I still dream of spending an afternoon in café – maybe getting on with my writing, chatting to other people about theirs and collecting stories, maybe even signing and selling a few books.  Over and above that, of course, you can collect characters and ideas in cafés and they are good antidotes to the loneliness that most writers feel.           

Saturday 19 November 2011

Time for Tea, Prestwich

Yet another wonderful find.  Time for Tea was pointed out to me by a colleague who posted a comment on my blog after I’d posted a comment on the VC’s blog at the University of Salford, where I work.  Ah, the joy of social media!
I actually drive past this pretty establishment every day I go to the office. I’ve often thought it looked quite cute.
Yet it is far more than that.
On Friday I arrived early. I’d arranged to meet a friend there. She said “What about a coffee?”  earlier in the week and I’d said “What about helping me to check out this new café?”   
So there I was at ten to three ordering a pot of tea.  And what a pot it was! A proper china one. The amount of tea reminded me of returning form a day of teaching and my late father making a whole pot of his special brew which I would consume before settling down to  some marking and / or lesson prep.  In Time for Tea you get a little jug of milk and a separate pot of hot water.  
Once my friend arrived, we ordered more tea and some of the homemade cake.  It all lived up to expectation. Much nicer than the big chains!
The colleague who’d recommended it said how tranquil it feels. I’d doubted that as it is situated on the busy A56. But she was absolutely right. You feel detached form the big city when you’re in there.  You are back in the world of lace tablecloths and waitresses in black and white.
But how creative is it?
It works. There are books that the lone customer can take down from the shelf and read.  Once a week, a journalist spends a couple of hours there collecting stories for her local newspaper.  So they already had a writer in residence. They also do tea parties for £7.00 a head- minimum number 15, maximum 25. I’ve already decided to hold a “literary salon” there in the New Year.  There will be readings of poetry and short stories and a chance to buy signed copies of books.  There will be sandwiches, cake, tea and coffee, and a glass of wine.
Definitely worth a visit!     

Sunday 30 October 2011

Why cafés work for writers

You see it so often, writers sitting in cafés with either a notebook or a lap top in front of them. Many writers confess to regularly writing in cafés. Natalie Goldberg recommends it.   Why and how does it work?
Part of the answer may be that writers finding themselves alone in cafés may well spend the time there writing. Why not? We have to make the most of every opportunity, don’t we?  
Also, a café full of people is a place to find good ideas. People- watching is really important for writers.  
A third, slightly less obvious reason, is that it combats the writer’s sense of isolation.  They are sitting there, out in the world, so they no longer have to worry about what is happening in the world.  That part of their brain is satisfied so the rest of it can concentrate on the writing.  
Cafés do provide a nice atmosphere to work in. There’s the soothing mumble of voices, the smell and the taste of the coffee, the swoosh of the coffee machines and the temptation of the pretty cakes – even if you resist sampling them it’s nice to know they’re there.   
I personally don’t often write in a café but I do revise and I do make notes there. When I attend the SCBWI critique group in Manchester, I get into town early and sit in Druckers with a pile of manuscripts, a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of traditional apple cake and portion of ice cream.  For the Chester group I use the crypt café in the cathedral. It is soothing knowing the world is there.    
I remember having lunch in a little café in the south of France once. There was a writer at the next table, lunching alone, and between mouthfuls jotting down lines of poetry. It seemed he needed the people around him - and the food and drink – in order to be able to write.
Once when I was jotting down a few notes in a café the anxious owner hovered around, asking if everything was all right and whether I needed another coffee.  I’m sure he thought I was writing about his café.
Writers have met and written in cafés for years.  Musing by Moonlight sums this up nicely.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Writer in Residence at Delicious, Lutterworth

I spent a very pleasant afternoon at Delicious yesterday. Lutterworth anyway is a charming little spot and really lends itself to this type of café. It does face competition from nearby Morrisons and Costas, but it also offers something a bit different.“I like to come here to relax and think,” says one customer.
It certainly is tranquil, with the door open on to the street and a pleasant breeze coming in on a warm July afternoon. Is this its unique selling point? Or is it the Tea-Pigs tea, with the fuller leaves in little silk bags. The packets are roughly twice as much as you’d pay in a supermarket, but the flavours are more than twice as good. I tried the mint and liquorice. Delicious indeed. I was rather temped also by the chocolate leaves but refrained. I’d already tried their coffee and one of their gorgeous lunch-time sandwiches. The coffee is far smoother than that served at Costas or Starbucks. All the cakes are home-made and on offer yesterday were lemon-drizzle cake, fun-looking cupcakes and a rather tempting fruit cake. The café has a good lunch time trade, both takeaway and eat in, and they also supply catering-items – including pirate-ship and teddy-bear-shaped baking tins.
Delicious is just beginning to become a Creative Café. Well, I was there for one thing. They keep a basket full of arts information. They could easily accommodate a writing or reading group, a small book launch or a poetry reading, perhaps as a private function in the evening. A sensible pattern might be to ask a group to pay the staff’s wages that evening. They’d sell drinks and snacks. People who’d not been before are introduced to the café. Everyone wins.
There is a little alcove / room at the back of the café. There are a few children’s toys there. This could make an ideal meeting space. Or it could be where the Writer in Residence offers writing surgeries.
I chatted to a few people – including two members of staff – one a creative writing student, the other an avid reader. I realise that I need to have some more leaflets printed.

Friday 1 July 2011

Revisiting the Angel, CreEATion Café, Salford

The Angel Café Salford, with its subtitle, crEATion, is one of the first cafés to come into the Creative Cafe Project. It sells really good food at really reasonable prices. It’s generally healthy food, though the portions are huge; the café serves street-workers. I mean traffic wardens, road-builders, BTOpenreach workers and so on. A lot of local people also use the café. Meetings are held and projets set up. It becomes a creative café by default.
I visited the other day. As I was going out for a meal in the evening, I decided just to have a snack. That is not always easy at the Angel café. They really do cater for big appetites. I settled for the soup – spicy tomato. Delicious! Every time I go, I resolve to go more often. The food is so good and it’s such good value, and the atmosphere is really pleasant. It’s just a short walk from my office at Salford University.
The café is still being creative and it is still supporting the arts. The muzak was a pleasant swing. The counter from which food is served is covered in pieces of old sheet music. The walls act as a gallery displaying local art work. This work is for sale, so the café is directly aiding the creative practitioners. There is a notice board with posters of local arts events and a rack containing pamphlets. There are more in the foyer which is also the reception area to the Angel Centre. Most tables contain some reading material – a free newspaper, a book that someone has crossed, or more arts information.
Yes, the CrEATion Café is certainly being creative.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Writer in Residence, Delicious for All LE 17 4EG

This first Writer in Residence event will be taking place Friday 1 July, at the Delicious for All Café, Lutterworth, LE17 4EG.
Gill James, aka Lian Childs, will be there, working on her writing but also free to:
Answer questions about her work
Discuss your work
Gather ideas for collaborative projects
Sell signed copies of her books
Enjoy what the café has to offer
Offer tips on getting published
Discuss the work of the Creative Café Project
Gill is also a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford. She also edits for Bridge House and The Red Telephone.
Be there or be square.
12.00 – 17.00
Look forward to seeing you!

Saturday 23 April 2011

Writers in Residence

I’m starting off on a Creative Café tour soon. I’ll be spending about half a day in a variety of cafés, just sitting getting on with my work on my laptop, like you do, but with a big “Please Disturb Me” sign on the table. I’ll be there as well to chat to people who are writing or who may be about to start writing. I’ll also be selling signed copies of books. These can go through the till at the café – the café taking 10% of price, still leaving me a small margin.
The cafés are going to help to promote this.
Eventually, I’d like to enrol other writers who would do this and who would get the recommended Society of Authors fee of £350, £250 per half day. I’m currently applying for Arts Council funding to cover the cost of a half dozen writers to do this. I’m doing the pilot ones – claiming expenses against my self-employed income and giving my time “in kind”. I’ll then be looking at a way of facilitating this to happen in a self-funding way.
If you’re interested in being involved, either as a writer or a café, please get in touch here.