Love in a cup – Writers and Coffee

T.S. Eliot once said “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” and I certainly feel like that about my writing career (although unlike Eliot, I see this as a positive thing!) This rich, chestnut-coloured liquid (I take mine straight) has fuelled bursts of inspiration and helped settled my nerves after a rejection. And it always accompanies a baked treat if there is cause for celebration. Like nothing else (okay, apart from my husband and kids) coffee has been a steadying influence along the rollercoaster journey of becoming a published author. It’s a big part of my writing life and inspired my next novel  out in May, The New Beginnings Coffee Club. Hands up, I’ve conducted something of a love affair with this drink, for many years now. As have many writers. Legend has it that Lee Child drinks 30 cups of the black stuff, every day!

So is it the caffeine that attracts me? No – purists brace yourselves, but I only drink decaff. Yet decaffeinated coffee has come a long way in the last five years, with restaurants and cafes going the extra mile and installing machines that will produce it, instead of offering only instant. I don’t get that chemical hit. So what’s the attraction? For me its the flavour, its richness, the warmth.  I always drink coffee with a biscuit or cake. So no doubt my hit is from that sugar. Nothing keeps me at my desk like an large Americano and slice of cake like the banana loaf below. Just the smoky, roasted aroma makes me feel settled and ready to put finger to keyboard. Perhaps this was why playwright John van Druten said “I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.

Having said that, we’ve all, at some point, drunk a bad cup – yet still finish it,  even draining the dregs. And I think author Edward Abbey summed up how I feel, when he said “Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.” It’s as if my authorly brain sends out messages to consume, regardless of flavour, because it knows that beautiful liquid is a necessary creative tool!

At least five times a week I go into a coffee shop ( and I did work out the maths of how much that means I am spending in a year, and needed a lie-down afterwards!) This breaks the routine of my stay-at-home author job. Sometimes I meet friends, writerly or not. Often though, I just go on my own and spend the time planning out the next chapter of a book. A change of surroundings can be hugely inspiring. And, as explained in the picture below, going out for a coffee means so much more than just going into a shop.

Novelist Gertrude Stein certainly agreed that there is something special about the experience of drinking coffee:
Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

I loved writing The New Beginnings Coffee Club, which is about a cafe, in a small village, that has a real community feel. Jenny Masters’ charmed existence comes crashing down around her ears. Can a little bit of caffeine really help her become the woman life always intended her to be?

This book features my most favourite character ever and if you love feel-good stories – and coffee – it’s up for preorder here.

 

 

The Olympic Art of Writing

Up until about ten years ago, I didn’t watch  the Olympics much. So why the change of heart? I believe it’s got something to do with that roughly being the time I started to write. I even went to the London 2012 Olympics and loved every minute of our day, cheering on athletes. So as a desk-bound author, how can I relate to the super-active Olympians?

Olympic writing

Training – I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to really acquire and excel at a skill, whether that be writing novel, playing the piano or swimming 100 metres as fast as you can. And I believe that is true. I still have a lot to learn but I added up my hours dedicated to writing once – over the last decade – and it was heading for that big number. So when I watch those athletes, I don’t just see sportsmen and women, I see ordinary people who’ve been training for years; who started out a ground zero, like I did with my writing; who probably – just like me – have wept and despaired many a time over failures such as rejection or not hitting goals. Who have had to learnt to face and deal with setbacks. And who, equally, have enjoyed moments of unadulterated joy.

Passion – you can see it in the Olympians’ eyes. And let’s face it, becoming a top athlete is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and I can relate to that. Writing takes over much of my mind, from the moment I wake to last thing at night when I am plotting books or fleshing out characters. I’ve put in the hours. I’ve put myself out there in competitions and by submitting my work. I’ve failed but tried again harder. Finally I’ve found a degree of success and now I work hard to consolidate that and meet the next challenge. I wouldn’t still be here, at my desk, without a burning passion for words. And that passion has got me through the hard times, just like it does for a an Olympian who may fall of his bicycle on the last lap or just miss out on winning Gold.

Luck – in my opinion there is a significant element of this involved in succeeding with a career. Your writing can be exquisite but may never reach a wide audience if you don’t find that one editor to believe in it, or if your story is given a misjudged price or poor cover. And I feel it’s exactly the same with excelling in a sport. You could be in your prime just before a major event and then sustain an injury. Or, one year, could just be up against some exceptionally strong competitors. I believe that talent and dedication alone aren’t enough – they also that little, mysterious ingredient called magic.

Of course, there are dissimilarities. An Olympian needs to have full control of their emotions, especially when actually competing. Whereas writers are sensitive, emotional creatures who probably improve their work by fully indulging their feelings. Unless we’re talking steady rejections or bad reviews. If possible, at those moments, you need to call on your logic and keep a grounded perspective.

heart biscuit

 

And as for the diet, ahem, well, I don’t think a sports person would get very far if they consumed my daily, writerly intake! We’re talking crisps at the keyboard, cake and biscuits, and of course the odd glass of wine. Also, I have to *research* food for my writing, naturally, like scones and fish n’chips for my new summer release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun! In all seriousness, though, the really important consumption for an author is to read widely and observe people – to soak up the inspiration, not soak with perspiration.

So if you switch on the Rio Games, let those athletes motivate your writing. They are proof that with a determined attitude, solid work ethic and a little bit of luck, ANYTHING is achievable.