Space to Read and Relax: Bookshop Cafés and Bars Around the World…

What is there more enticing for any book lover than to find a combination of books and coffee (or cocktails)? I often see images of bookshop cafés,  and I idly begin to dream about finding a corner (and some time) to while away a few hours reading with a mug, or a glass of something, in the beautiful surrounds of a bookshop or an atmospheric bar. Is it just me? I suspect not! Here are some of the places, both sumptuous and simple, to which I would happily transport myself, in the name of reading and space to relax.
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1. B2 Boutique Hotel, Zurich

Once the site of the old Hürlimann Brewery, this is now a hotel, with the industrial character of the buildings carefully preserved to illustrate the history of Zurich’s legendary brewing era. The B2 Boutique Hotel has a sumptuous library lounge, which boasts over 33,000 books, is an inviting place in which to lose yourself in a good book. With its tall arched windows and eleven-metre high ceiling, the library is reminiscent of a cathedral. The books were once housed in an antiquarian bookshop and can also be borrowed by guests during their stay in the hotel. The library is a space where you can work, talk business or relax and unwind. I have had my eye on the hotel since I first cast eyes on a photograph of the library some months ago. I’m now even more keen to go at some point, having just seen the incredible Thermal Spa, which is connected to the hotel. Spread over 3,300 square metres, the spa is housed in the former barrel filling area of the Hürlimann Brewery. But I digress! Back to books….

 

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2. The Bookworm, Beijing, China. 

The Bookworm is a library and a bookshop with a large collection of books. 16,112 titles on their library shelves at the last count! There is a gourmet European café on the premises. Thousands of English-language books fill the shelves and can be borrowed for a fee or read inside. They also sell books and magazines. A range of interesting talks and spontaneous musical evenings make this place a hive of activity. It’s easy to see why The Bookworm is such a hit among Beijingers. The spacious, interconnecting rooms with floor-to-ceiling books on every wall are light and airy in summer, yet cosy and snug in winter. And the roof terrace is perfect for yard-arm cocktails.

Their coffee is always freshly ground, they say; their chocolate cake voluptuous, and staff delightful! Anyone interested in testing this out?

 

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3. Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico. 

Books line the walls of Mexico City’s Cafebrería El Péndulo, but visitors can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from the café  and drinks from the bar. There is also a cocktail happy hour! Read a book while enjoying live music, poetry readings and stand up comedy.

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4. Pickwicks Cafe Bookshop, Vienna

This small book café named after a Dickens’ novel, serves Irish beer and has a library and rents out videos. They sell burgers, bagels, salads and fish and chips. There is free wi-fi and a big screen. I have yet to visit!

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5. El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
This bookstore opened as a theatre called The Grand Splendid in 1919. It was first location in the world to show silent movies. Now, book lovers can enjoy a coffee in the café on the old stage. It still has the original balconies, painted ceiling, ornate carvings and the crimson stage curtains. The Guardian named El Ateneo second in its 2008 list of the World’s Ten Best Bookshops.

The theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050, and staged a variety of performances, including tango artists. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a cinema, and in 1929 showed the first sound films presented in Argentina. Chairs are provided throughout the building and the theatre boxes are still intact.

The ornate former theatre was leased by Grupo Ilhsa in February 2000. The building was then renovated and converted into a book and music shop, with the cinema seating removed and book shelves installed. El Ateneo Grand Splendid became the group’s flagship store, and in 2007 sold over 700,000 books; over a million people walk through its doors annually.

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6) Scarthin, Peak District, England.

Some might prefer the altogether more earthy beauty of a shop like Scarthin Books in the Peak District. Scarthin’s has been selling new and second-hand books since the mid-1970s. They boast 40,000+ new books, 50,000+ second-hand books, 5,000+ rare and antiquarian, music, a café AND publishing! It is a bookshop so beloved, that it advertises local guest and farmhouses on its websites where devotees can stay overnight.

Writing Process Blog Tour

I have been invited by author Rebecca Bradley to answer some questions about my current writing as part of a writing process blog tour. You can read her answers on her blog.

So here are my responses to the following questions:

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the ending of my second novel. The first was historical fiction, and set in 1980s/1990s Prague. It was a fictional take on the impact of the fall of communism on the lives of the Czech people, and the ensuing changes. This one is entirely different. It’s a thriller, set in Vienna, and was inspired by a trip to an auction house in the city during the annual Long Night of Museums over a year ago, which you can read about here and here. I stood next to a Canaletto painting, which was said to be expected to fetch ten million euros at auction. So many thoughts surfaced, from who would pay that much for one work of art and where would it end up, to imagine if I just lifted it and walked away with a painting. Crazy, I know, but such is the imagination of a writer! And from there, a whole story began to unravel. Researching art theft has been fascinating and I particularly enjoyed reading insights from the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman. His memoir, Priceless, is really worth a read. In it, he discusses how he went undercover to rescue some of the world’s most valuable stolen art treasures, and he highlights the need for greater expertise in the area of the theft of cultural property. Several of my short stories have been published online and won various competitions, so I am also polishing a collection for publication.

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How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I read a lot of literary fiction and I really dislike all the genre segregation and the debates surrounding what makes good writing. In my view good writing is good writing regardless of its genre. Does the genre categorisation make literary fiction genreless? Nobody seems to agree. I don’t believe that any one type of writing is better than another. I’m happy about the rise of the short fiction form and hope that all forms and genres can be equally celebrated. My current novel is written in the first person, present tense, which many would say is tough and risky, but I think it works and it has certainly held my attention for long enough to continue with the story. It helps the reader to get inside the mind (and fears) of the protagonist, which would be difficult from another perspective. It increases the tension. It is also set in Europe, and in a city I know well enough to include the minute details and the feel of the place.

Why do you write what you do?

Well, you’ve seen the variety – historical fiction, thrillers, short stories – and it probably reflects a highly varied taste in reading, but as far as the current work is concerned I find thrillers really intriguing in terms of what makes them work, especially psychological thrillers. I have been hooked by many great writers over the years and in a way they have fed into what I am currently writing. I also read a lot of short stories and am passionate about writing short fiction. You’ll find several on my website if you are interested.

How does your writing process work?

It always starts with an idea, which is followed by several vivid scenes. Once I can link them together I can start to plot and plan the story. I do quiet a lot of research, despite the fact that I write fiction, and I draft and re-draft, often adding in new scenes or scrapping parts which don’t quite work. You have to be unafraid of being ruthless. Readers will want to stop reading at points where you don’t edit properly. With the first book I cut out an entire family (who really had no place in the story) and several chapters. I once read that if you take every other word out of a text, the story still makes sense. Try it. It will show you how many unnecessary words can be used which could have been cut. Maybe I should reread this post! I work at an empty table with a strong coffee and some water. I don’t always feel hungry when I write, especially when I get caught up in the flow of the story. I take breaks to move around but I try to keep set time for writing and to treat it seriously. I guard my writing time and often snatch evenings to write when I can.

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I’ll now pass the baton on to Fiona Melrose, Michelle Flatley, Colette McBeth and Jon Rance.

 

Christmas Markets, Vienna: A Feast For The Senses.

The scent of cinnamon and spices fills the air, people mill around the stalls clutching their mugs of punch and crepes or baked potatoes. Hats cover glistening faces and the atmosphere is seasonal and filled with anticipation. Lights catch the spinning decorations and fir trees line the entrances. The Christmas markets in Vienna began as early as 1294. Also known as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt, the markets originated in Germany, Austria, Italy and France. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe. The streets of Vienna are lined with huts from as early as mid November and sell punch, gluhwein (hot mulled wine with a shot of brandy), glass and ceramic Christmas decorations, traditional cribs and baked delights, such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot (both types of soft gingerbread). There are puppet shows for the young and brass bands and carols for the rest of the audience.

Starting in 1997 Frankfurt Christmas Markets were established with support from Frankfurt in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester in Britain. A market began in Lincoln in 1982, and other large Christmas markets have been held in England in Bath (since 2000) and Liverpool (since 2006). German immigrants also brought the Christmas market celebrations to parts of the US.

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All that’s left to say is Best Wishes for the Christmas Season and a very Happy New Year to you all.

 

Unbraiding the Short Story: An Interview with Author and Conference Co-Director, Dr Sylvia Petter

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I met Sylvia recently and fortuitously through twitter via a mutual connection. I was grateful to hear of another writer in Vienna and we have met on several occasions since, including at a reading of her newest short story collection at Shakespeare and Co. in the city. She is an inspiring and enthusiastic writer who is organising events at the International Short Story Conference in Vienna in July 2014. I wanted to find out more about the conference and share with you some of Sylvia’s experiences and writing. Her short stories are thought-provoking, often touching on social and political issues.

Hi Fiona,

Thanks for giving me space on your blog!

What drew you in to writing short stories and what is it about the form that appeals to you?

I came late to writing. In the late 90s, on the way back from a course in the UK I picked up my first writing magazine. There was a contest for a story about a ghost in a computer room. I started writing and couldn’t stop; I wanted to find out how the story would end. Magic? The story got nowhere, but I was hooked. I had to learn how to write fiction and I’ve been learning ever since. I learnt a lot in the Geneva Writer’s Group and also online in the pre-web days in Alex Keegan’s Boot Camp where a group of us had to analyse not only our own stories but also stories from the Best American Stories series. That was an intense three years online, my “MfA”.

The form seems to come naturally; my cruising count is relatively short – under 2K. But it’s a difficult form. There is story and story, and what I’m looking for is resonance.

Which writers inspire your work and do you have any favourite short stories or collections?

I love the work of the Australian expatriate, Janette Turner Hospital, and the Canadian, Timothy Findley, who also wrote short stories. Edna O’ Brien’s stories move me, as do Alice Munro’s and stories by the Australians, Cate Kennedy and Paddy O´Reilly.  Favourite collections would be ones by Janette Turner Hospital – Dislocations, Isobars, North of Nowhere, South of Loss, and her most recent prize-winning collection, Forecast: Turbulence. I’m also fond of the adult short stories by Roald Dahl. There is so much good short-story writing around in different media – online, audio, and the reading I attended at the Word Factory in Soho this summer to listen to Kevin Barry, Keith Ridgway and Mary Costello. Then there´s terrific flash fiction by Tania Hershman, and a host of others.

You’re an Australian living in Vienna, having also lived in Geneva. Have the cultural differences helped to give you new insights or fueled your writing in any way?

When I was in Geneva, my stories were mainly set in Australia, although taking inspiration from happenings in the region. The same thing is happening in Vienna, but to a lesser extent. This may be linked to the expat experience and also to the fact that I feel at home in Vienna now – despite the word ‘home’ being a difficult one to pigeonhole. Many of my stories have a political tinge to them, so the setting depends on who the characters are and the issues that are making me and sometimes them say ‘what if?’

Your reading of the collection, Mercury Blobs, at Shakespeare and Co. in Vienna in the Summer was a wonderful event. Your short stories are full of life and exude the enthusiasm that flows through in to your conversation. How much of your character and experience filters through into your work?

Thank you so much for your good words, and I’m so glad you had fun that night. The atmosphere was terrific and the audience attentive. That makes things easy.  And I was so pleased that Annie Evett, my Australian publisher, was there and that the kids made some videos and didn’t fall asleep. Most of my stories are triggered by some happening I’ve experienced, or been told about, or read about in the papers, and then I do a lot of ‘what iffing’. I suppose bits of me and bits of people I’ve met are all mixed up in the characters. So, beware, you may find bits of yourself in a future story.

As Co-Director for the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English in 2014, you are organising the conference held in July next year with Dr. Maurice Lee. What are your hopes for the conference in raising the profile of the short story form and what are your expectations for the event?

I’ve been going to the conferences since 2002. I only missed the 2006 one in Portugal because I was moving from Geneva to Vienna. I’m very excited that the 2014 conference will be happening in Vienna, and the international mix is bound to demonstrate all the things the short story can do. There´ll be several stories in English translation from the local Austrian writers and from writers from Asia. The event is timely as recent international recognition of the genre – the Man Booker to Lydia Davis, the Giller to Lyn Coady for a short-story collection, and of course, the Nobel Prize to Alice Munro – will put a spotlight on the Vienna conference. Behind the scenes with her magic wand is also Dr Susan Lohafer, who vets all the papers and proposals.

I expect to have a week devoted to the short story, with readings and panels and workshops and networking, where there´ll be sharing and learning, cross-pollinating, and enjoying the buzz of immersion in this exciting and all too long somewhat neglected genre. There’ll be more than 70 writers attending, as well as a host of scholars. We want people to leave Vienna with a new and stronger appreciation of the short story and how these conferences promote them and their writers, and we want them to want to come to the next one, and the next one and the next. This conference is sort of my home, wherever it may be held.

There is a wide range of authors attending, can you tell us about how you chose and invited the various writers to speak and to get involved in the workshops?

One of the things that impressed me at the first conference I attended in New Orleans in 2002 was that Dr Maurice A. Lee, the Director, told us all to leave our egos at the door – the big ones and the little ones. The conference brings well-known and lesser-known writers together on an equal footing. We are there for story. Of course, there are some big names, but what we are looking for are writers who are ready to be there together and celebrate story. We’re expecting over 70 writers from all over the world. There is a tremendously inclusive atmosphere of sharing and cross-pollination, and we have fun.

Regarding the workshop leaders, all had to have demonstrated teaching experience in the genre, and we wanted a certain geographical distribution. Some of the participants have been attending since the first conference in 1988, so writers who had attended before were asked if they wanted to come to Vienna, and many do come back again and again. Thanks to the possibility of getting the word out about the conference via the website and social media like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and by word of mouth, new faces will be at the Vienna conference.

Each conference also showcases work by local writers translated, where necessary. We’re honoured to have multi-prize winning writer, Friederike Mayröcker, attend, along with Clemens Setz, Doron Rabinovici and others. The exciting thing about the Vienna conference is that participants will also see the theme of ‘unbraiding’ a little like the unbraided plaits of Empress Sissi, reaching out into perhaps unfamiliar directions, as well as the braids that when opened allow for an investigation  of the techniques, history and psychology underlying a short story. The local approach added to this, I feel, will help underline the universality of the genre itself even though it is one that is difficult to pigeonhole.

Cutting edge papers also play their role in bringing writers and scholars together—the birds and the ornithologists, as Robert Olen Butler once said. I remember at the 2012 conference in North Little Rock when writers and scholars attended a round table on flash fiction. The next day, a young scholar from Portugal spoke about the work of Lydia Davis. Flash fiction writers were in the room, and this year, flash fiction practitioner, Tania Hershman, was invited to address a colloquium at the University of Braga in Portugal. This year, too, Lydia Davis won the Man Booker for her micro-fiction. Synchronicity? Whatever. But some magical connections do seem to take place.

The presentation of papers as a more formal representation will be held alongside other formats, including performance, art and film. How do you think the different angles on the short story will appeal?

The conference has always had paper presentations interleaved with reading sessions, although performance and film have not been very present. The paper/reading tandem works very well. Some papers are sometimes on the work of participating writers, which adds a certain edge for both the presenter and writer concerned, and also for the audience. In Vienna, there may be some new offerings in the area of performance and film, but that all will be seen in the final programme which should be available in a few months. The Call for Papers is open until 10 January 2014.

How it will appeal? I think story can have so many different ways of being disseminated. The idea of performance and film also brings together different manners of representation. Everything is changing in the way things are presented. But hasn’t that always been the case? It is easy to look back and see the changes, but when you’re in the middle of change, it may sometimes appear a little overwhelming to some. We want to look at a variety of possibilities in a nurturing and supportive atmosphere. I also think the readings will appeal to the local Vienna population, so there will be great international mingling for them, too, when they come to hear writers from Austria, Australia, Ireland, Canada, UK and the USA.

How can people get involved in the conference and workshops and how can they support the event? 

The conference proper opens on Wednesday, 16 July and ends on Saturday night, 19 July 2014. But there’ll be kick–off events open to the public: a reading at the Alte Schmiede on Monday 14 July, ten workshops by seasoned and well-known teachers and writers on Tuesday, 15 July, readings on Thursday and Friday evenings. Of course, we would like people to register for the conference so as to take advantage of the mingling and the atmosphere, the learning, and to enjoy and be stimulated by the readings, papers and panels. There´ll also be a luncheon reading for conference participants and a farewell dinner at a Heurigen. Shakespeare & Co is also planning a books & brunch event on the Sunday morning for those leaving Vienna later.

People can support the conference by registering to attend, by going to the readings, signing up for the workshops—I don’t think Vienna has ever seen such a fantastic group of teachers in one place at the same time—by entering the short story contest which closes in April, by submitting papers and proposals by the 10 January deadline, by joining the Society for the Study of the Short Story by making donations, and by spreading the word about this wonderful event that I’m so happy to see back in Europe, and hosted in Vienna.

sylviaBorn in Vienna, Sylvia grew up in Australia and after more than 25 years in the Geneva area, is now living in Vienna, Austria. She started writing fiction in 1993, and her poems, articles and stories have appeared in print and on the web. The Past Present, her first collection of short stories, was published in 2000/2001 in paperback and eBook formats by IUMIX, UK. Her second collection of stories, Back Burning, won the IP Picks Best Fiction Prize and was published in 2007 by IP, Australia. Her stories also appear in the charity anthologies 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for Pakistan, A Pint and a Haircut – True Irish Stories, 100 Stories for Queensland and New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan.

You can connect with Sylvia on twitter, her website, blog or facebook.