What are people really working on in coffee shops?
Pop into any coffee shop and you’re guaranteed to see people working on their laptops. But have you ever wondered what they’re doing?
Today, in Dalston’s HOT SHIT coffee bar, I asked every person with a laptop what they were working on. Their answers will shock, amuse, and intrigue. Guaranteed.
Jeremy, or Jez as he insisted I call him, is working on his debut novel. The time is right, he said, for a bestseller exploring young men working in the tech industry, which is also a comment on Trump’s America but in a funny way. He said it’d be a cross between Girls and Silicon Valley.
‘Silicon Girls?’ I ask him, but he doesn’t hear.
Being a writer is great for Jez because he’s able to tell people, especially women, that he’s a writer. Although he doesn’t have an agent and is yet to submit his manuscript to any publishers and has only completed 2535 words, he thinks he’ll probably end up self-publishing because that’s the future and you get a bigger margin, whatever that means.
I asked Jez what he did for money. He laughed and told me that his father was a barrister and you should see the size of the Islington townhouse.
Miranda has a killer idea for a screenplay and she likes to work on it in the HOT SHIT coffee bar because she needs the energy that being with people brings. It’s a spiritual thing. Also — she lives next door to a nursery and the children’s crying drives her crazy.
‘Aren’t the nursery workers meant to shut them up? They have means. They have means. Don’t they have means?’
I didn’t know, I said.
She’s confident that she’ll get the screenplay produced because she read Classics at St John’s, Cambridge, with the son of Ridley Scott and there’s stuff she knows about the Scott family that’d blow my mind.
She pointed at her MacBook Air.
‘The characters’ names have to be in the middle?’ she asked. ‘When you format it? That’s right, isn’t it? I know they have to be on the side if it’s a play. But it’s in the middle if it’s a screenplay? I should really do a MA in Creative Writing. They teach you this stuff.’
I suggested she Google it.
David was extremely apologetic when I excused-me him. He thought I was the barista, about to move him on for taking three hours to half-drink a filter coffee. When he realised that I was only a Medium star with over 7000 followers, he was less sorry.
‘What’s Medium?’ he asked, and: ‘Why are you talking to me?’
David is working on a collection of haiku. He says it’s a form of poetry that’s short and therefore perfect for the modern world. People can read his haiku on their phones on the tube etc. People have short attention spans because of social media and other stuff. He continued speaking, but I was distracted by a text. It was from my local Pizza Hut. They were offering two large pizzas for £20. A good deal.
David writes haiku that are both serious and funny.
‘At the same time?’ I asked.
‘Yes. Like Better Call Saul. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.’
I asked if he was enjoying the new series.
‘I don’t have Netflix,’ he said. ‘Too busy with the haiku.’
When I suggested there wasn’t much money in poetry, he asked to be left alone, observing that people said something similar about wizards to JK Rowling.
Like Jez, Ivor was also working on a novel. In particular, he was brainstorming the title. Because he works in marketing, he knows the importance of a strong brand: i.e. very important.
‘What do you think about A SHADOW OF SOLITUDE?’ he asked.
‘What’s the book about?’
‘I haven’t got that far yet.’
I told him that I liked the title because it sounds thoughtful and haunting. He nodded at my response and typed MacBook Air keys.
‘Is this your day off?’ I asked.
He shook his head. He smiled.
‘I’m working remotely!’
I was drinking a £5 soy-milk coldbrew when Danny approached my table. He nodded at my MacBook Air and asked what I was working on.
Danny explained that he wrote for Medium, had I heard of the site? People say it’s just a blogging platform but it’s not because Obama wrote for it. Danny has over 10,000 followers. He’d also written for Thought Catalog and Canadian Vice. There’d been a near-miss with a rejected submission to McSweeney’s that subsequently broke into the Medium Top 50, which goes to show how subjective the writing business is.
‘Why do you want to know what I’m working on?’ I asked.
‘Don’t spread the word, but I’ve this killer idea for an essay. I’m going to pitch The Awl, maybe even the NYT (online). Look, you know how coffee shops are always full of people working on their laptops? My idea is to interview each and every one of them. How great would that be? Ask them what they were working on. So that’s what I’m doing! Now. With you.’
I lied to Danny. I told him I was working on a short story set in the dystopian future. It was inspired by Fargo (TV series) and its title was A Shadow of Solitude. He nodded and made notes on his phone. I spoke vaguely about Trump for a while. I used the prefix ‘post’ excessively.
When he’d left, I finished my coffee. I wrote these words. I considered those people I’d interviewed today. What if all of them had lied like me? What if they were all working on this very killer idea?
I had only one option. There was no time to submit to The Awl. Not even Electric Literature. I needed to publish ASAP.
And so that’s what I’m doing now.
All I ask of you is to recommend this piece. Danny Cauliflower was wearing chinos and those annoying circular-frame glasses. You don’t want his essay doing better than mine.
And, you never know, it might get even picked up by a publication. Maybe even Slackjaw. And if it does, I can tell attractive women at parties that I’m a writer.