Coffee With Characters

Hands up who takes their imaginary friends to their local café?

JK Rowling did – reputedly – and that’s where Harry Potter came into being, but it’s not a unique phenomenon.

Writing a novel doesn’t require much in the way of ‘stuff’ – a pen, paper, laptop – lending itself to mobility. Whilst most aspiring writers don’t have a beautifully proportioned, minimalist garret with a view to unleash their creativity, they can probably rise to the cost of a cup of coffee and even, on high days and holidays, a bun.

Scotland, rich in culture and literary tradition, with a café on every corner, has a host of authors and authors-in-waiting thinking great thoughts over their chosen beverage., Here, we take a peek at eight of the ones to watch. Who is working where and at what…?

Sarah Forbes is the author of the Elspeth Hart series published by Stripes. Her third novel, Elspeth Hart and the Magnificent Rescue, was published on 7 April. Sarah says:

‘I often work in Odds and Ends which is in Polwarth and quite peaceful on weekdays, so I can always grab a table. They do a great flat white and have tasty soup from Union of Genius… not to mention the windows are huge so you can gaze outside when inspiration just isn’t striking. It’s dog-friendly, if that’s your thing… there’s a cute puppy called Seymour who will run up and greet you when you arrive.’

Rachel Plummer is the recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2016. Rachel says:

‘My favourite place for writing poetry is Henderson’s vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant doubles as an art venue, and has live music nightly. I especially love their monthly ‘Poetry and Coffee’ coffee mornings, a short reading featuring three poets which you can enjoy with a cup of tea and a slice of one of their delicious cakes.’

costaMarie Campbell is a proofreader specialising in fiction, whose debut novel, Baby, is published in May by The Conrad Press. Marie says:

‘When I’m not writing at the kitchen table at home, I like the peaceful anonymity of a branch of Costa. Not for me the quaint independent cafe, with waitress service and coffee in cups the size of, well, cups. Give me a bucket-sized latte and an hour of two of uninterrupted scribing and I’m happy. And it’s always a notebook and pen when I’m there, rarely a laptop. No one ever bothers you in Costa – if you want more coffee, you go to get it yourself. As for location, I’m not too fussy – Morningside is a good branch to meet with writer friends. Straiton has handy parking and Lothian Road is close to my hairdresser. Win-win.’

P.E. Freestone is the recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2016, who says:

‘In the New Town, Fortitude Coffee has some of the best brews in the city, and when you’ve had enough caffeine there’s herbal teas and locally-sourced snacks to keep you going. It’s a wee place, but if you head in at off-peak times and snag the table in the window, it’s a lovely spot to spend an hour or three writing.’

Catherine Simpson, a journalist and the author of Truestory, published by Sandstone Press, says:

‘I work from home in Penicuik – more precisely I work from the kitchen table – so when I want a change of scene I nip over the road to Giovanni’s Bistro in Penicuik town centre for a spine-straightening, head-clearing, imagination-inducing Americano.  Actually I’ve recently gone from a double shot to a single because the caffeine was packing quite a punch. The Bistro is family-run by Giovanni and his wife, Chris, son, Dino and daughter Carla. A visit always includes a chat about what’s been happening in and around the bistro and the bustling atmosphere is a wonderful antidote to the quiet of my kitchen. If I’m feeling especially tired/deserving/hard-working/lazy I may indulge in some home-made shortbread too.

Coreen Connell is currently completing her debut novel, Tangled. Coreen says:

‘My favourite café to write in is on Princes Street at Waterstones Bookshop – how apt? It is comfortable, surrounded by books, magazines, papers and maps, with a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle – what more inspiration could I require? The ambience is unrivalled, the coffee and muffins scrumptious and one can sit, contemplate, write or people watch uninterrupted for hours. Special events are regular and worthwhile. The hustle and bustle, and comings and goings, make for excellent creativeness and I find ideas spill out onto the blank page before me where I began writing my novel, “Tangled”.’

Robert McGinty, also the recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2016, says

‘My favourite pre-writing place is the Balcony Cafe in the Chambers Street Museum. I look across the atrium at the giant cabinet of curiosities: I see bottled squid, Ottoman armour, industrial machinery, moon rockets. Along with my coffee I imbibe nourishment for my imagination; I leave with a head full of histories and the fictions they inspire in me.’

cafe-2-rotaryHelen MacKinven is the author of Talk of The Toun, published by Thunderpoint. Her second novel will be available later this year. She has this to say:

‘Unlike JK Rowling, I can’t think of anything worse than writing in a noisy café but one of my hobbies is people watching. I indulge myself when I’m waiting to meet my writing friends and a favourite spot for this is The Herald Café Bar inside The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, a great place to enjoy a taste of city life. I go there regularly for book events to be inspired by other writers but after an ice-cold Irn Bru and a satisfying slice of people watching, I always come away full of ideas for fictional characters too.’

This feature was inspired by an idea from Helen Croney, of the Scottish Book Trust, whose own favourite café is Reds in Portobello.


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