Writers need Rituals

Writers live uncertain lives. And people who live uncertain lives love ritual. Trust me, I know. I've spent half my life studying ritual in folklore and mythology, and the other half creating rituals of my own. 

Rituals are familiar gestures and patterns that reassure, comfort and energise the people who inherit or create them. Wherever we go we seek out the right conditions in which to re-enact them. And having found the right conditions we're content.

For me it's bookshops-that-are-coffeeshops-that-serve-tea. 

Normally I work facing a computer and a blank wall. But every now and then, I need to get away from my desk with a pencil, a rubber, a sharpener and a notebook. It's when I'm starting something. Or finishing something. Or at a turning point. Or stuck...

... actually I'm not sure quite when it happens. But the point is that a point comes when I have to get out of the house and into a bookshop, surround myself with other people's words and images, make pencil marks on paper, and drink tea.

So wherever I live I need to find someplace that'll put up with crumpled pages on the table, pencil sharpenings scrunched into napkins and endless requests for hot water and more milk.

Not an easy ask.

But somehow, in both Bermondsey and Corca Dhuibhne, I've been blessed.

In Bermondsey there's the wonderful Woolfson & Tay, at 13 Bermondsey Sq., run by Shivaun and Frances, two women with a dynamic, personal vision of what a bookshop should be. It's modern, spacious and spotless. The books are eclectic and exciting, 'the kind of stories that celebrate the human experience and its resilience'. There's a gallery space at the back. The food served in the calm, elegant coffeeshop's delicious. And they make a proper cup of tea.

In Corca Dhuibhne it's Dingle's Café Liteartha, run by Seoirse, a man with a tweedy hat, a deep love of the Irish language, and a formidable knowledge of Irish books. Where Woolfson & Tay is all open spaces, white walls and contemporary lighting, The Café Liteartha's narrow, dark and inviting. The shop at the front is crowded and piled with books. The cafe behind is a clutter of little tables, where customers consume home-made soup and sandwiches, jammy scones, pots of tea and the daily papers. 

The contrast between the two places couldn't be greater. But it's totally outweighed by the things that make them alike. They're personal spaces, shaped by the personalities of their owners. Hunched over a notebook or compulsively paring pencils you can tap into an energy that's almost tangible. These are places run by people who love their work. 

And they don't just sell books and serve coffee. They serve their communities too - with readings and workshops, music nights and book launches, discussions and events. 
These days surviving as an independent bookseller takes energy and commitment in spades.

Come to think of it, running an independent bookshop's about as uncertain a way of life as you can get. I don't know if rituals support Seoirse or Frances and Shivaun. But I know how lucky I am to have their shops in my two workplaces. So I'm crossing my fingers that my luck will never run out.


  1. I don't work well away from my own office- so many distractions. And in a book store... I'm impressed you don't sit and read- I would!

    Hoping to make it to Dingle in June with my girls- you may have to show me your favorite spots!

  2. Sounds wonderful. There are such places around here, but not too close to me. Not one bookstore in my town. And homemade soup and sandwiches? Jammy scones? A dream! :-(
    I want to visit!!!

    1. Hi Cindy,

      In a way you might think that food and books don't mix - I mean no-one wants jam to migrate from their scones to the stock! But I've never known the slightest problem of that kind in either place. And they are wonderful (places and shops). You should definitely think of visiting :)

      Some more pictures from both places to tempt you here http://www.facebook.com/TheHouseOnAnIrishHillsideByFelicityHayesMcCoy - though more of Cora Dhuibhne than of London, as the book centres on finding and making our life in the house here.

      Best, Felicity.


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