writing in the hubbub

It’s a weird thing, at home in my study I can’t stand the slightest sound. I have a tin of fly spray beside my computer because I can’t even work through a buzzing fly. When I lived in the Devon countryside, I had to wear my partner’s chainsaw ear defenders to keep out the sounds of our sheep baaing. But when I’m out…on trains, in cares and now sitting in the Author’s Yurt at the Edinburgh Book Festival I can work in amongst all sorts of distractions that would normally drive me nuts. I’ve sat here for more than an hour now, with a printout of Whale Boy on a cushion on my lap, happily editing. Around me there are conversations of all sorts going on, presenters and authors taking about their forthcoming sessions, authors catching up with old mates who they only meet up with on the literary roundabout of festivals. It’s sunny outside – I’ll just say that again shall I – it’s sunny outside (last time I was here three years ago the central area between the marquees was a lake and I wore all the clothes I’d brought with me, all at once) and as it’s warm I can hear more conversation coming through the walls of the yurt. The voice of one of my writing idols is right next to my head. But I’m not really listening to any of it…just looking at the words in front of me, scribbling in the margins engaging with the story I finished last week and seeing it from the distance I need to improve it ( well that’s the theory).

Its odd. I think it’s because none of the noise here, is anything to do with me. There is not a single thing here that’s mine. It’s a bit like other people’s babies crying – I don’t even hear them and I could tune in to my own making the slightest squeak from the other end of the house.

There’s something liberating about being in a place that isn’t my study and working. As if any work I manage to do here is a bonus so it makes it into a kind of play, as if I’m not really trying to work at all. It takes the pressure off, suddenly after weeks of slogging away, being in a different place has given ideas the licence to seep through gently from the other side of the blotting paper in my brain. I finally understand why Alan Ahlberg works in cafes. Maybe I should try it on a more regular basis. I could visit public places and set up my laptop on a picnic table in a busy park, or the corner of an art gallery, or perhaps even a zoo. The idea spot is slightly elevated, a place overlooking activity and bustle but slightly removed, so you can look at details or a bigger picture. Perhaps that’s attractive because it mirrors the process of writing…visualising a bigger pictures but finding the tiny details that embody it, the little silver bullets of dialogue, description that carry the essence of a character, a moment, and emotion. A balcony over an Italian square would be lovely but failing that a tea room next to a very good haberdashery department would do nicely. So if anyone knows of a cafe like the one that used to be on the mezzanine of The old John Lweis in Bristol, let me know.

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