My local café recently changed its seating arrangement. Oh no. Not because of me, I hoped. Me, sitting at the big table by the front window, trying not to spread my papers and books about too much, but wanting to get my work done.
Under the new configuration I was forced to sit at a table for two, allowing barely enough room for my ‘stuff’. But it’s a lovely café and I determined to make do. It has been a godsend to me as I go through the latest phase of ‘where-I-work’.
When I first took up writing, I rented a small room in the CBD. Having just finished working, I couldn’t imagine not going into the city every day. But soon, it dawned on me that I couldn’t catch the tram in my dressing gown, which is what I wanted to do. Plus the office rent kept going up.
Next, I settled for working at home. Some days I barely moved from my bed. I began the day by journaling and went straight from there into writing. Tessa, our dog, patiently sighed at the end of the bed looking up every now and again in wait for her walk.
Natalie Goldberg is an author who says she loves Paris because there you can write in the cafés. I’m not sure this is still the case. But the message is, if you like a café and feel welcome there – anywhere in the world – then make the most of it.
People will tell you where to write, what your office set-up should be, how things should look and so forth. But I say: create a space that’s right for you.
Update: I visited my local favourite café last week. The long table had been returned to the front. Order had been restored. I know my secret, quiet, little coffee shop will not remain so forever. But while it lasts, I plan to write and luxuriate as much as I can.
Margaret’s notes on the Elwood Writers soiree held in August at St Kilda Library:
The Elwood Writers 2018 soiree was our third in a series of evening readings. The group’s first two events were held in a private home where we tested the performance waters with family and friends. This year we branched out a little, presenting at a local public venue and inviting a slightly wider audience.
The concept of a soiree is loosely based on the old-fashioned, European notion of a ‘salon’. People are invited to gather and enjoy themselves while being entertained with stories and musical interludes.
As my own work is mainly memoir and of a personal nature, I can find public readings to be challenging. But I have to be willing to open my soul, while protecting myself with the suited armour of a story and carefully crafted narrative.
Despite the challenges, however, in the long run I value the opportunity to leave my comfort zone (the support of my group and the patient listening of my partner), to spring into the exhilarating and expectant atmosphere of a live audience, whether this be with friends or strangers.
The audience’s response to us can be subtle. It might come in the form of a sigh of satisfaction or as a wave of relief (or even agitation) that ripples through the crowd. One might detect a murmur at the end of a story or poem, or a facial expression of pleasure or questioning. But despite any nervous apprehension on my part, I would not be willing to miss the experience for anything.
The graduation from working solo to public performance is all in the path of the writer, I believe, where she must firm her step and ready herself to stride forth into the realm of the more global sphere.
Margaret McCaffrey’s “January in Harlem” was longlisted for the 2018 Fish Short Memoir Prize, an annual international writing contest run by Fish Publishing in Ireland. The event attracted 780 entries and was judged by Marti Leimbach.
Margaret is pleased to be a contributor to the anthology ‘Jewels of San Fedele’, which comprises the work of 14 women who attended a writing retreat in Italy, 2016. The ‘experiential’ classes were designed to have students deepen their work. Margaret’s two stories are excerpts from a memoir in progress.
‘Jewels of San Fedele’ is edited by D Ferrara and Patricia Florio, and is available from Amazon at the following link:
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the World War II books of Paul Brickhill dotted the bookshelves of our den – The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky and The Great Escape most notably. The sparseness of the books’ spines stood in contrast to the more embossed books on our shelves, suggesting that the former belonged to my father, a veteran of that war.
In Adelaide this year, I was curious to hear Paul Brickhill’s biographer, Stephen Dando-Collins, announce that Brickhill was not only Australian, but had been a prisoner of war (POW) of the Germans, as had been my father and uncle. No wonder they forced us kids to watch every late night TV re-run of Reach for the Sky, the film about the indomitable British fighter pilot and real life POW Douglas Bader.
As a prisoner of Stalag Luft 3 himself, Brickhill was fascinated by heroes, underdogs ‘struggling against impossible odds’. He determined that his first novel, The Great Escape, would be based on the events of the break out from his own prison camp, wherein fifty escapees were shot dead. Brickhill knew that his novel needed a hero to focus the story. He chose real life escapee Roger Bushell, or Big X as he was known. Steve McQueen played the lead role in a later movie, somewhat sensationalising the actual escape but cementing Brickhill’s career as a successful author.
Stephen Dando-Collins believes that Brickhill hit upon the need for heroes in a post-war Britain that was reeling from a broken economy and cities in ruin. There was little evidence to the British in the 1950s that they had actually won the war. Brickhill kept his Australian identity quiet so as not to jeopardise his authenticity as a storyteller. The objectivity of his ‘outsider’ status may have helped him shape Britain’s post-war view of itself by creating heroes for posterity.
Dando-Collins says that Brickhill was drawn to other hard-drinking, chain-smoking, driven men like himself. These days he would be described as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In those days he was just part of the norm. But this is a subject for another time.
The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill Stephen Dando-Collins (Vintage)