Tag Archives: coffee houses

Writing Workshop – Use an 18th Century Curiosity as a SpringBoard For Your Writing

Fancy a jaunt to an 18th century coffee shop with me to do the writing workshop?

coffee-house-blog-post

Sometimes folks really want to write but they feel blocked because the ideas are stuck – writing workshops are ideal for getting rid of creative constipation.  Today, I want to get really deep into the recesses of your mind and find what wonderful things are lurking there.  You never know, you may find yourself writing in a genre you have never thought of before.  At the very least, I hope that you will get some new ideas for a story.

Step 1

Take some deep breaths and close your eyes. Now imagine yourself walking down a street with buildings on either side.  Look smart and get under my brolly – folks like to empty their chamber pots out of the window around this time. Yes, I’m sorry the ground is covered in excrement – it will wash off and the pong that you are experiencing will get you ready for the whiff that envelopes you when you get inside.

emptying-chamber-pots

You come to a large building with a gargoyle door knocker on it. As you lift your hand to knock, the door swings open. I want you to imagine yourself taking your shoes off and leaving them outside the door. Your shoes symbolise all the mental footsteps that you have taken in the past. By leaving your shoes on the threshold, you are leaving any writing blocks that you may have behind. I want you to conjure up a picture of yourself waving away any negative thoughts that you may have about yourself as a writer.

We should pay a penny at the door but they can’t see us and we’d only freak them out if we threw our modern money at them. Just for this visit, we’ll go in for free.

Step 2

You have now entered The Coffee House for our writing workshop but as you will have gathered, it’s not the 21st century – it’s the late 17th century and we are in a very fortunate position because no-one is aware of our presence.  Let’s find out what is occurring and see how we can use it.

Curiosities were all the rage

While I offer you a little explanation about some of the things that you are going to experience, try not to breathe in the deep fug of smoke that pervades the air. Don’t worry if you have a coughing fit, they can’t hear us.  The mixture of tobacco fumes and the smoke from the open fires can be overwhelming. However, if we look on the positive side it does take away the stench of the unwashed bodies. It was considered unmanly to keep yourself scrubbed in those days so put this peg on your nose and breathe through your mouth.

In the late 17th century and 18th century, it was all the rage amongst upper class gentlemen to display curiosities. Many of them had their intriguing finds on show in their huge homes so that they would have a talking point about their travels to visitors.  This did not go unnoticed by the entrepreneurial coffee houses. They realised that is was a great way of attracting business.

cabinet-of-curiosities

For instance, James Salter opened a coffee house in 1695 in Chelsea which came to be known as Don Saltero’s. One of his customers was Sir Hans Sloane, the physician whose donation of 50,000 volumes and 3,560 manuscripts formed the nucleus of the British Museum. Sloane travelled vastly and because of this he gained a large collection of curiosities which he donated to Salter to display in his coffee house. Other patrons followed this trend and it attracted people from all over London.  So let’s investigate how these curiosities can springboard our creativity. Be warned – you have to be playful here.

Exhibit one

oliver-cromwells-sword

You come to Oliver Cromwell’s sword.  I want you to mentally pick it up and swipe it through the air. Don’t worry, our actions in the coffee shop can’t harm anyone. Now thrust with it. How does it feel? Has it made you feel empowered or do you quickly drop it because the veil of death has covered you? Make a note of your feelings.

Now we need a springboard to launch us into a writing piece. Don’t worry if you haven’t got one because you can use mine if you wish. Also, it doesn’t have to be Oliver Cromwell’s sword, it can be another historical person of your choice.

Springboard one

A children’s story – After a visit to the museum to see the sword, the ghost of Oliver Cromwell turns up in the main child character’s bedroom. He wants his sword back and won’t go away until the main character gets it for him out of the museum. We could see some real action for 8 – 12 year olds there.

A historical one – if you combined some research with creative licence here you could write a short story about someone that died by Oliver Cromwell’s sword.

A comic piece – you could run a spoof here with Old Ironside’s sword being like King Arthur’s ‘Sword in the Stone’. Let’s face it, the old warty faced puritan could definitely take some comedic stick.

Exhibit two

maids-hat

If you weren’t inspired there, we can move on.  Here we come to ‘Pontius Pilate’s Wife’s Chambermaid’s Sister’s Hat.’ Close your mouth, you will breath in too much smoke. Yes, you’ve guessed it, a lot of the curiosities on display in the 18th century coffee house were fakes. However, the fact that someone from that period took the time to make something like that up means that it is indeed inspired. For a start, I don’t believe that female servants or slaves in the Roman period had hats, if they had head gear at all it would have been a piece of cloth. In fact, hats such as this one on display had not even been invented. Therefore, I think that we have to use a fake 18th century hat as our springboard.

Springboard two

A comedy piece – an 18th century pseudo nobleman is trying to relieve a fop of his fortune by trying to convince him that the hat belonged to Pontius Pilate and has magical powers. We’ll drop the chambermaid’s sister bit, it sounds less impressive to our fop and it adds to the comedy that Pilate would wear such a hat.

 

Exhibit three

cross

As we move onto the next item, we come to realise that this also has got a bit of a dodgy provenance. It’s a piece of wood that is supposed to be from the true cross that crucified Jesus. They seem to like their biblical pieces. I can see the attraction and it was also harder to prove in those days that the piece was fake.

Try to ignore all the noise. Coffee houses in those days just got louder and louder as all the men tried to out shout each other. Think of politicians and you get the picture.

Springboard three

A crime story  – If we pretend that this is the real thing then we could have a crime story – some people would probably kill to get their hands on an item like that.

Exhibit four

pin-cushion

I don’t know if this is my 21st century mind but I would also question the next item unless I saw its provenance.  It’s Mary, Queen of Scot’s pincushion.  We think that the world is full of cons now but it was rife back in the 18th century too.

Springboard four

A historical thriller with romance thrown in – Mary, Queen of Scots is truly a larger than life character. You could write a murder, thriller or love story around her supposed pincushion. If you fancy this as a springboard, you can let Mary cut the pincushion open, hide something very important and small in it and then get her trusted lady of the chamber sew it back up. It would be a good idea to set the story through her lady of the chamber’s eyes. If she has to deliver the pin cushion to one of Mary’s trusted allies, you would have a historical thriller but could weave romance into it as a sub plot. Obviously, if it was a short story you would have to choose one or the other.

Exhibit five

old-key

We now come to our last piece and although it was a difficult choice, the prize truly has to go to the key which was once used by Adam to lock and unlock the Garden of Eden. Yes, these people had true chutzpah. However, I have to say that for creative writing purposes it does actually have mileage.

Springboard 5

A fantasy piece – There is great room here to write a fantasy piece that is a metaphor for the modern day. How about, instead of there only being Adam and Eve on earth, only Adam and Eve can get into the Garden of Eden and there are lots of people in a barren land outside that want to get into the fruitful garden.  Will Adam and Eve let others in or will they keep the biblical arcadia for themselves? If you fancy this, go for it.

Step three

It’s time to leave. Swoop up your ideas, whatever you do, don’t leave them in the coffee shop. Let’s take a final look around – they are all too busy competing to be the best and nosiest to notice that they have had ghosts of the future looking at their curiosities.

coffee-house-again

Out through the front door, find your shoes, put them on but leave your past negative thoughts about your writing in the filth strewn street. Now go and take your thoughts and don’t judge them simply write down everything that comes into your head.

Congratulations – you have made a start on a new piece. Happy writing.  

 

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, Writing Workshop

Trouble in the Coffee House? Get Writing.

Writing is good for your spirit and you don’t have to stay in to do it. It’s really good fun to go to a coffee house armed with your writing paraphernalia and to set your short story in there. If you really want to chance your arm you can create characters for your story from the other folks that are supping coffee around you. Whatever you do, don’t let them see. Coffee gets some people excited and you don’t want a black eye when all you are doing is creating a story.

coffe-house-1

Take down the details of the room you are sitting in and you have a setting readymade. Of course, if you wish to add or take away from that, you can do. This is the beauty of writing fiction; you can build the world to suit yourself.

Sneakily look at the people sitting nearest to you. Are they story fodder? If not, why not? If it’s an elderly couple that are talking about the cost of drinking chocolate, don’t forget that everyone has a past. She could have been a spy during World War II. He could be a retired private detective. Basically, they can be whatever you want them to be – run with your fantasy.

coffee-house-2

For those that love historical fiction, you will find that coffee houses have been around for a while and so if you wish to write a historical piece and set it in the coffee house then that is no problem. In fact, if you read on, you will find a true and hilarious situation that you can use as a basis for your story, if you so wish.

If you love popping out to the coffee house to have a good laugh and titillating gossip with your mates, you may be interested to know that this type of behaviour has been going on since the 17th century. However, back then it was purely the male that frequented the coffee house. Men would spend hours making business contacts and talking about politics in the coffee house. This did not go unnoticed by their female counterparts and trouble started to brew. (Do forgive the pun.)

Sterile and impotent

Women who were fed up of being coffee widows got together and published a hard hitting pamphlet. “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” (1674) suggested that when men drank coffee daily it made then sterile and impotent. Obviously, this was a cause for concern in society because it would mean a reduction in the birth rate.

Women tearfully told how their husbands were turning their backs on them to enjoy the company of their peers in the coffee houses. They spoke of how this action threatened the social and economic future of the country because men were becoming incapable of fulfilling their marital duties. One woman even declared that all that coffee drinking ‘made men as unfruitful as the sandy deserts where the unhappy berry is said to be brought’.

For a moment, the men were truly speechless but only for a moment. They rallied back with “The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition.” They were having none of it and were rather blunt in their reply. The men suggested that drinking coffee made the erection more vigorous and then went into detail about how it actually made the sperm more potent. In other words, they fought back saying that coffee would actually make the birth rate rise.

coffee-house-3

Well that is certainly something to write about. You could write a television sitcom or a short play. It doesn’t have to be a short story. The whole idea of the exercise is to get you into the coffee shop setting and then to let your mind run wild. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy doing this. Just remember not to put pressure on yourself to produce War and Peace, this is meant to be fun.  Anything that has been written can always be improved upon at a later date if you so wish. For the time being, just have a giggle.

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, Inspiration and Us, The Peculiar Past