Ernest Hemmingway did it quite famously. So did J. K. Rowling. But they’re just two of the myriad writers who have poured their ideas, their stories, sometimes their very souls out on paper or keyboard whilst soaking up the atmosphere of their favourite coffee shop.
Counted in their numbers is Calgary-based writer Susan Toy, who decided to take the practice up a notch with the Coffee Shop Author writing contest.
“I was living alone in a very small apartment in Toronto about six years ago, and would take my writing to a local coffee shop where I at least had the semblance of company. After a particularly productive writing session, I looked up at my fellow patrons and noticed that many of them were working quietly at their individual tables. I wondered how many, like me, were working creatively,” Susan shared.
Last year, she partnered with Oolichan Books publisher Randy Macnair to launch the first Coffee Shop Author competition. This year’s contest, which closes at the end of March, is designed to lure writers out of their offices, away from their desks and into the community. Despite the name, the coffee shop is just one idea for an outside locale. Libraries, shopping malls, restaurants, and even an ice cream shop, also qualify.
The first place Canadian winner will receive a trip for two to Fernie, B.C., and registration for one at the Fernie Writers Conference, car rental and a week’s accommodation at Fernie Getaways, and a chance to have their work published by Oolichan Books. The first place international winner will receive a complete manuscript assessment by one of the editors at Oolichan Books.
But according to Susan, winning isn’t entirely the point of this competition.
“I never wanted anyone to think of this as a competition, but rather as a means of providing an incentive to actually write – the proverbial kick-in-the-butt,” she said. “It isn’t meant to be a means of finishing that manuscript entirely with an eye to getting it published. It’s supposed to be a way of learning how to hone the craft of writing, to learn the discipline of writing regularly, and to realize you’re part of a community of writers – across the country – who share the same dreams and ambitions, and who want to join in to cheer each other on in their shared pursuit.”
For their first year, The Coffee Shop Author competition received registrations from 61 writers across Canada (this year, they’re opening it up internationally). The entries ran the gamut from creative short stories and novels to poetry, and from creative non-fiction to children’s literature, with some romance and mystery thrown into the mix as well.
While Susan isn’t sure if or how the setting influenced the work of the writers taking part, we like to think that being surrounded by the rich aroma that permeates a coffee shop, the warm colours that many boast, the hum of conversations going on and just being in a relaxing place that allows one to decompress and free flow can’t help but get the creative juices flowing.
The added bonus, according to Susan, though, is passing that inspiration on a little bit.
“The point is to bring writing out into the open, and let readers know that there are actually real people writing those books they enjoy.”
– Words and photo by Lori-Anne Poirier