Tonight I attended a storytelling evening at a local cafe (Velocity Cafe on St Stephens Brae in Inverness). It was a really lovely evening, all based on stories the involve cafes in some form of another.
The organisers have a blog at wagonalice.wordpress.com where they encourage people to submit their own short stories about cafe life or little anecdotes. I was feeling inspired when I got home, so here is my contribution:
“Squirrel!” Someone yelled from the other side of the cafe in Leakey’s Book Shop, Inverness. We all looked up, glanced at the newly familiar faces sitting around at various tables, and one by one cracked up with laughter.
Sometimes I think that being a writer is a lot like being an extraterrestrial. You can learn to speak the same language as everyone else, but the general public will never really “get” you. They won’t understand the way you think, the way you see the world, or the way you’re not always present in the same moment that they are. It can be a solitary and lonely life, unless, like me, you’re driven to find others just like you.
In November 2012 I started going to the write ins for NaNoWriMo. It was my second year and I wanted to share the experience with others. I’d not long moved to the city and was determined to find other authors who I could share the journey with. When I heard a local bookshop had a cafe that was happy to open up to us NaNoists, I spoke to the owner and he agreed to let us use it every Saturday afternoon at 3pm. At first it was a tiny group, only three or four, but as the weeks passed and other write-ins occurred at other venues, more and more people came, until there was a solid core of about ten of us.
We were from all different walks of life…teachers, Police, council workers, computer programmers, charity organisers…it was an eclectic mix with a common theme. Bonds formed slowly over the clacking of keyboards and the consumption of tea and cake. Faces became familiar as we greeted each other every write in with smiles and nods over our screens. We shared little life stories, bounced around dreams and laughed over our little jokes that somehow became funnier because they were shared with almost strangers.
It all changed when someone shouted “squirrel!”. I don’t know who started it, or why, but when we all finally stopped laughing, word flew around the tables like Chinese whispers – “we’re all going to put squirrels in our books!”. It was a magical moment. As I typed a scene, later to be published in my novel Sage, about my protagonist dancing through the Wild Woods accompanied by squirrels, I realised that we had formed between us a tangible bond. There, in black, white and slightly ridiculous, was a long and lasting reminder of a very happy time in my life.
It became an ‘in joke’…every mention of squirrels set us off into peals of laughter and we all walked away with a piece of literature that, somewhere in it, had something of the heart and soul of solidarity in it. A constant, tangible reminder of the friendships that were forged in those early days.
When November drew to a close, we couldn’t bear to part. After all our laughter, tea and cake, it was just too hard to shake hands and say “until next year, then?”. We agreed to keep meeting in cafes around the city, sometimes on Thursdays and sometimes on Saturdays. We still laugh, write, drink tea and eat cake. We have a sense of identity, a sense of companionship. We even have a motto.
Go Team Squirrel!!