How long has it been since I’ve had a day to myself in a London coffee shop to do nothing but write?
I’d forgotten the freedom of it. No distractions. Just a coffee, my iPad, and the London atmosphere around me.
With work training taking up so much of time, plus a very welcome increase in my social life this summer, finding dedicated writing time has been hard.
But today is just for me and my story.
The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne is a book made up of three distinct stories:
1) The first is the story of family reaching breaking point. As they struggle with young children, a new house, and a young and free new lodger, Elenor and Richard start to face how neither of them have ever been truly happy with their choices, and whether or not this means their marriage is a sham, or simply more real than the idealised image of it they have had.
2) The second is about a young woman trying to work out who she is. Zoe lives in someone else’s house, works in someone else’s shop, and sleeps with someone else’s boyfriend. All around her are people who seem to know what they’re doing, while she struggles to work out if she will ever find what she is “supposed” to do with her life.
3) The third is a ghost story, where a young couple and their new lodger discover their new house is haunted by a presence that doesn’t want them there. As Elenor gets sicker each day she remains but recovers once outside, Richard refuses to accept that his new house can be anything but perfect. But as Zoes starts to encounter inexplicable night terrors, the three of them need to decide whether to face their own prejudices to run away.
All three of these stories would be interesting to read. Mixed together as they are, they just don’t work. I can see what Murray-Brown was going for, but there is just too much going on. Her main problem is focusing on too many characters. Each time the story gets going and starts to engage you, you’re suddenly faced with huge chunks of back story. And you get this for all three main characters; Richard, Elenor, and their lodger Zoe. If Murray-Brown had focuses on either Zoe or Elenor, the book would have have a simpler through line and got bogged down in itself less often. As it is, the story is so diluted all tension is lost.
It’s a shame, as the writing and characters are good. There is a great book in here. Here’s hoping next time she gets a better story editor.
As I arrive in the coffee shop I look around. It’s fairly empty today. I prefer it like that. I’m not someone who needs absolutely silence to work, but it’s always better when I don’t have to actively ignore a large amount of ambient noise. I suppose I could invest in a decent set of noise cancelling headphones, but that’s fairly low priority on my list of things to spend money on.
I order my coffee. My favourite table is free, the perfect spot for an hour’s writing. I walk over and settle. Everything is nice and peaceful.
Then a group of about 20 elderly women, all apparently slightly deaf and needing to speak just that little bit louder than everyone else around them, arrives and settle into the table next to mine.
For fuck’s sake.