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London's best writing spaces

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MA Children's Literature student Samantha Oppenheimer shares her favourite places to write in London.

Ziferblat

People writing in Ziferblat

Ziferblat is a giant living room full of books and tables and couches that overlooks the beautiful Church of St. Leonard. It is a space exclusively for reading, writing, and working on art or music. They have a kitchen with coffee, tea, and snacks, which is free with your entry fee. There is a library of wonderful books for inspiration, as well as an assortment of musical instruments and works of art.

PS: The entrance is a blue square with a Z on the window, and you have to ring the buzzer and say you are there for Ziferblat, like a secret clubhouse.

Location: Shoreditch
Price: 3 quid for the first hour, 2 quid for the second, and 1 quid for every hour after that until you feel like leaving
Plus: Exclusive and secret
Minus: The sheer amount of cool art and books can be distracting.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Monster Supplies

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies is the magical shopfront for the Ministry of Stories, a creative writing and mentoring centre. The shop is cozy, full of dark wood and fun products, like thickest human snot (lemon curd), werewolf biscuits (shortbread), and earwax (clotted cream fudge).

They play jazzy music and have an invisible cat that snarls and purrs, and the atmosphere is something like a combination of a French cafe and an old general store. If you sign up to volunteer in the store, you can sit and do your work at the desk, enjoy the warmth and the atmosphere, and occasionally help the monster customers looking for organ jam or pixie dust.

PS: The invisible cat is still a cat, and will want your attention when it is least convenient.

Location: Hoxton
Price: Time
Plus: They bring you tea and biscuits all day
Minus: You want to buy all of the things.

Photo: Tom Oldham

The Glade at Sketch

Toilets at Sketch

Sketch is a series of artistic restaurant spaces. The main one, the Galley, is a legit restaurant that requires a reservation, and is full of watermelon-colored velvet. Right across from the Galley, however, is the Glade, a drop-in café designed to look like a fairytale forest, complete with a chandelier made of branches. It is gorgeous and quiet, and I always sit in the corner in one of the rocking chairs, scribbling and sipping from a pot of vanilla tea. The food is amazing.

PS: The toilets look like 1970s space pods.

Location: Mayfair
Price: Around 10 quid for a sandwich, 5 for tea
Plus: It is so beautiful that I am always inspired.
Minus: I usually end up dropping 20 quid on lunch.

Cutty Sark area of Greenwich

Foot tunnel

This is a great area. There’s the water, there’s Greenwich market, and there are a huge assortment of restaurants and cafes that cater to the students of the University of Greenwich. The Cutty Sark is there, a huge ship that is now a museum, and right next to it is the Cutty Sark Tavern. It’s pretty inside and outside, right on the water.

If you don’t want to hang out around the tavern, there are also benches up by the wharf, near the domes entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel that’ll take you across the river. The market has a good assortment of street food, so you can grab a sausage, cinnamon bun, or empanada, and go eat them by the water.

PS: You can actually eat all three. No one is watching you.

Location: Greenwich
Price: Sitting by the water is free. An empanada will run you £2.50.
Plus: It’s busy and alive and hip.
Minus: Well, you know, people. They can also be noisy.

Lewisham micro library

Lewisham micro library

This is an old, repurposed telephone box on Lewisham Way, right around Lewisham Southwark College. It is always full of free books, and they change all of the time. You take a book, and give back a different one. I’ve gotten some beautiful ones there, like Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones, and Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett.

The box itself is a little small to write in, but it is in front of the Borough of Deptford Memorial Gardens. The gardens are a conservation area full of benches, flowers, trees, and long stretches of grass. It is a beautiful space to work in, this incongruous patch of green right in the middle of a grey urban area.

PS: There is something so perfect and London-y about hanging out in a telephone book box.

Location: Lewisham
Price: Free
Plus: Never crowded.
Minus: Weather dependant.

Telegraph Hill park/ The Hill Station Cafe

Telegraph Hill park

Telegraph Hill Park is gorgeous and varied. There is a lake with willow trees and lush greenery, two playgrounds, a skate park, and long carpets of grass. There are benches and chair-type metal ovals set into the ground, or you can bring a blanket to stretch out on in the sun.

My personal favourite spot, though, is inside of the wooden climbing structure. If it’s earlier in the day and no on is there, I can snuggle down inside of one of the towers and enjoy writing in the sun. It’s more supportive than a bench, to be able to put my feet or knees up against something. You might have guessed at this point that I’m quite small, so this position isn’t something I would recommend for everybody.

Right next to Telegraph Hill Park is The Hill Station, a colorful café with big, sturdy tables and couches and really remarkable cakes. I don’t normally like cake, but their cakes are amazing. If you’re there on a day they do the orange and almond cake, you have to get a slice, it’s heaven.

PS: They also have fun events, like performances and picnics.

Location: Lewisham
Price: A cup of tea and slice of cake is, like, 3 quid.
Plus: Really spacious, both the park and the café.
Minus: Once 3 pm rolls around, everywhere explodes with children.

Southern Railway

Southern train

So this one, if you’re a writer, you’ll probably understand the allure. If you’re not, bear with me. There is something wonderful about writing on a train. The gentle motion, the scenery, letting all your other concerns drop, because on the train, there is nothing you can do about them. So sometimes it’s for getting for A to B, but sometimes I just buy a ticket someone and sit on the train for an hour or two to write.

I can get a coffee and a caramel waffle at a Café Nero or whichever chain is in the station, and write, and watch the world go by. The photo above is the Southern Service from Cannon St. as it goes over the Thames to take me back to New Cross.

PS: They say JK Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter on a train. So don’t scoff at the magic of wheels and tracks.

Location: Anywhere
Price: I think it’s an average of £2.50 if you’re a student.
Plus: It’s a little adventure
Minus: Sometimes someone who is yammering on their phone will sit near you and you will want to kill them.

Church of St Paul

St Paul church

There isn’t more than meets the eye on this one, it’s just a great big beautiful building with lots of nooks and crannies for curling up in to read and write. There are the front steps, the pillars, the benches in back, the stairs around the side, or any of the long rectangular box bits or window sills.

Or if you don’t want to sit on the big, pretty church, there are benches on the lovely manicured walkway in front of the church.

PS: It’s close to Deptford High Street, too, if you forgot your snacks and feel peckish.

Location: Deptford
Price: Free
Plus: Feeling like you’ve discovered an ancient Corinthian ruin.
Minus: If you don’t go on a really warm day, the stone can leech out all of your body heat.

Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre is huge. It’s a giant concrete monolith on the Thames, and there is a ton of stuff inside and around it. The main entrance walks you right into a bar with tables and chairs, which is usually pretty quiet unless there are children practicing for a dance festival on the stage opposite the bar area.

There are a bunch of other seating areas along the walls or on the upper levels, or in the little EAT deli inside, where they make this great hotpot with coconut and sweet potato and spinach that I get every time. There is also outdoor seating, and you might even end up inching over towards Beany, the cute little coffee shop under the bridge. Like a tiny troll who serves espresso. There are also a ton of restaurants and cafes in the area, if you’d rather be fancy.

PS: To tell you a huge secret, there is a members-only area on the top of the Southbank centre full of comfy chairs, and I’ve been, and no one has ever asked me for, like, a membership card. Shhh. Also they have a lot of cool events.

Location: Waterloo
Price: The hotpot runs me 5 quid.
Plus: So many places to chill.
Minus: If they are practicing for something, the concrete box acts like a giant amplifier, and it’s hard to get away from the noise.

Photo: Morley von Sternberg

L’eau à La Bouche

Cakes

L’eau à La Bouche is a French café and marketplace. They have window seating and long wooden shared tables, and everyone brings their laptops and headphones and dogs and sits together. They have meals as well as baked goods, and of course, cheese and chocolate and cured meats.

I love their little vegetable tarts, and I’ll grab one and a latte and set myself up on a long table, and alternate between writing and listening in to the conversation of the person right next to me. L’eau à La Bouche is one of those small places that smell like comfort and steam up the inside of your glasses in a good way.

PS: You can just go there to pet other people’s dogs. You don’t have to tell them that’s why you came.

Location: Haggerston
Price: 7 quid for a vegetable tart, salad, and coffee
Plus: Wonderful food and sexy French atmosphere.
Minus: Sometimes I feel weird sitting right next to someone else. But I am an introvert.

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