Legend has it that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter sitting in a cafe with a cup of tea at a time of personal hardship i.e. unemployed, broke and single parent. Hmmm, two out of three - not bad - so, I took myself off to a cafe for a cup of tea with a pen and lots of paper to see if I could get some creative juices flowing.
As I excitedly stumbled up the stairs to the cafe in Waterstones bookshop (an attempt to gain inspiration and ability by the osmosis effect) I pictured myself sitting by the window in the grip of inspiration; scribbling away like Jo in Little Women in a frenzy of creativity. The end result being a novel which my very own Professor Bhaer would get published for me (I had best go and find my Professor Bhaer as a matter of urgency!). Said novel would, of course, then lend itself to a series of novels followed by a series of blockbusting films - Oscar acceptance speech already written etc etc etc.
To my disappointment the window seat was taken by a trio of women 'doing' coffee who looked like they weren't about to leave anytime soon. One corner comfy sofa was taken by two elderly ladies who looked like they were taking a mid-shopping break (lots of carrier bags but arm room enough left for more). A corner table was taken by three persons of retired looking age who were holding some sort of meeting, the table being spread with a myriad of papers and folders. At a side table sat a middle aged couple engaged in earnest conversation so they didn't look as though they would be leaving soon either. So, I chose a sort of off centre table, ordered my tea and teacake (was JK able to afford a teacake I wonder?), got out my pen and much paper and settled down. To wait. For the inspiration to come.
Unfortunately the AGM people were loud of voice and spending an awful lot of time talking about computer technology. Well, that is one of them was holding forth with his experiences to the other two, who were out of necessity silent as he didn't pause for breath once. I could hear, but not see, the three women by the window as they were giggling quite hysterically and the earnest couple were droning on in the background. My head was buzzing with the sounds of all those voices. How did JK do it?
That was twenty minutes ago. Since then opposite me sit five children around the elevenish age group playing computer games. Their minders are sitting at a table next to them - ignoring them. Behind me sit two more elderly women, to the left of me three more elderly women. Behind the five children a man is studiously ignoring a small girl who looks about five and has a whiny, high pitched voice with which she is is carrying on a loud monologue whilst banging the table. An elderly man is reading the paper at another table. A middle aged couple are sitting not talking to each other. Two women have colonised the other sofa and are looking at photos on a laptop and a couple possibly in their forties appear to have dragged an unwilling teenage boy out with them. They talk - he stares into space. Two people dressed as ramblers complete with walking boots, backpacks and those green anoraks are having coffee at another table. The coffee machines are whooshing away like mad. And it's great. All the voices have merged into a general hum and apart from the frequent admonishments of 'Henry' to one of the five by a minder I can't distinguish any of the voices. I can't hear individual sounds. It's like white noise and it's strangely peaceful.
So, here I sit, waiting. For Inspiration. And nothing is coming. But, I am having a nice time. If legend is true I can see why JK (we are on initial terms now you know, us both being writers) did it. It is nice to actually be out of the flat, to be among people. It's not like going to work obviously and it isn't a social occasion - I am not interacting with any of these people but it isn't like being isolated either.
The people are begining to thin out a bit now. The five children plus minders have departed. Unfortunately monologue girl is still going strong accompanied by the occasional adult male grunt. Is she like this because she is being ignored or is she being ignored because she is like this? Either way adult male needs to help her out a bit I feel. Retired not speaking to each other couple are still not speaking to each other. He is still staring into space but she is now speaking to another woman at the next table who's male companion is engrossed in his newspaper. A single young male has arrived and is eating a croissant while reading a very large paperback book the title of which I can't see. The ramblers are now munching away on pastries whilst gazing up at the ceiling - there is nothing up there that I can see - they haven't even divested themselves of their anoraks and it is a very hot day. They actually look a little out of place, as though they should really be sitting in a rustic pub at the top of a mountain after a major yomp instead of taking morning coffee in a city tearoom. I wouldn't have thought there was much call for hiking boots in the city centre but perhaps they have walked a long way - and been at it since dawn. Two women who look very much like sisters have arrived and are carrying on a very animated coversation. They have a zillion carrier bags with them but not from the posh shops.
This is the sort of scenario that Alexander McCall Smith would turn into a book. He would write back stories for each of these people, somehow connect them to each other and although there wouldn't be a plot as such, no murder or espionage, it would be an observation of other people's lives that the reader could relate to. I have read some of his Scotland Street series and although I like to read them now and again I tend to like exposure to something different, something out of the ordinary, a sense of mystery, a surprise at the end or along the way.
Is someone in this ordinary looking scenario out of the ordinary? Is an event going to take place shortly in this very cafe that is going to change the course of one or more of these lives forever? Is one of these people harouring a secret or carrying a burden that will alter everything for them. The newly arrived older couple with younger child think it is such a notable enough event they are taking photos of her. Perhaps they are kidnappers and are taking photos to build up a history with her should they be questioned at any time.
Alexander McCall Smith aside I tend to not want to read every day life. I live every day life. I read to escape, to experience something outside my sphere of life. When I read I want to be transported elsewhere and I think that is probably the sort of thing I would like to write. But I am not sure I have that sort of imagination. But if I don't try I won't know so, which of these people in this cafe are aliens in disguise on the run from a dark and malevolent force?........................
ok here should be a picture of a dear little
green alien. Having surprised myself by
using clipart before I was going to do it
again - but - I can't remember how I did
it - it would seem to have been a fluke as
I just can't seem to work out how to do it
again. I have been trying for ages and
for the sake of my sanity am now giving
up so if you would be so kind as to
imagine a little green creature with
a rugby ball shaped head, no hair,
big eyes, long fingers with knobbly bits
on the end and looking in need of a
friend I would be most grateful.