26 October 2011

Writing in Cafés: Five Places to Write in Edinburgh

In the run up to NaNoWriMo, there has been much talk amongst Edinburgh's future novelists about where the best places to write are.

I have thought long and hard about this, by which I mean thought a little about this. Here are my suggestions for NaNo writing haunts, presented in no particular order.

Any Starbucks, or Coffee Shops in General

Immoral giant corporation-status aside, Starbucks has very cheap coffee and free Internet. It also tends, depending on which Starbucks you go to, to have attractive people spread evenly around its tables.

The nice thing about Starbucks for me is its clever balance between music and conversation. In a library environment, someone dropping a book will startle me out of concentration on a fairly regular basis. In Starbucks the abundance of sound sources just fade into a big buffer of white noise which is much easier to tune out.
A WriMo begins to regret relying of coffee to keep them awake at a real-life write-in in 2006.
The Pulp Fiction Store

This new book shop's owner Steve informs me that it aims to be the go-to writing locale. The elements that make a go-to writing locale are apparently armchairs, tables, lots of books, WiFi, caffeinated drinks and cake. Steve is evidently a sensible man.

Whether Pulp Fiction will become Edinburgh's answer to Shakespeare & Co. remains to be seen. I kind of hope it will because, you know, I live in Edinburgh and could do with a bit of literary magic. Even if it is genre-based. Also, I'm a really nice person.

The Central Library

The Reference Room of the Central Library has lots of tables in neat rows and a lovely old-fashioned ceiling, which combine to give the impression of the accountancy hall in The Producers. Very conducive to work. It also has the advantage of stocking literary-flavoured magazine like the TLS and the LRB, which come in handy for procrastination.

The Ref gets very busy, so I'm often shunted downstairs to the Scottish History section, where there are significantly fewer browsers.

These lower bowels of the Central Library boast a mezzanine balcony set aside for people to work in write novels in. The area has been cleverly calibrated to serve the dwarf population of Edinburgh. The tables are very low down, the perfect height for people of low stature. There are no windows, wonderful for those who require low light levels for working, and who prefer to be stiflingly hot when they work.
A WriMo works on their opening chapter in the mezzanine floor in the Scottish History section of the Central Library. (Source.)
The National Library

The Nat reading room benefits from being quite difficult to get into, and therefore very quiet when you do, eventually, get in.

This exclusivity also means that you are less likely to encounter a smelly older person, as is a constant danger in more open-access libraries. Clearly not all the old people who go to libraries smell of cabbage, but enough of them do to make this a genuine consideration if you are as easily distracted by nasal stimulation as I am.

The café downstairs is a great place to overhear the pretentious academic conversations of PhD students. Gradually, I have built up a fairly complete picture of the content of the regulars' thesis, which is very nice as I like that sort of thing. My favourite is an American lady who is writing about Spanish literature from a "traditional" perspective which is, apparently, "pre-Queer".

Edinburgh Napier University Music Library

If you're not a student at Napier, entrance to their library will be a bit tricky - though most universities have an associate membership programme will a silly name like Schonal Access.

It's worth the effort, because if you can swing a reading pass then you get to write overlooking one of the best views in Edinburgh. The whole north side of the library is one big window, and faces the castle from a vantage point halfway up Craighouse hill.

Catch this view sooner rather than later because the library is scheduled to be knocked down to build a housing estate.


  1. James, did you just look for pictures of animals on computers, or do you own an adorable bunny?

    Yes, that was pretty much all I got from this, but to be fair, I don't write in Edinburgh.

  2. I searched for "dwarves on laptops" and got that picture. I'm going to pretend I know why, but you can try it yourself if you don't believe me.

    ... Glad you enjoyed the post :p

  3. Pulp fiction no longer has WiFi due to abuse of the service. It is the one reason I don't make PF my writing home, because aside from that it seems perfect. Unless you rely heavily on online access. Heyho.

    1. Yes, that's a bummer. It's good to escape from the Internet on occasion, but I like to have the option myself.