I’m just back from a few days in London. I did the usually Londony things I like to do: museums, cinemas, revelling in the novelty of Starbucks (these don’t exist in deepest, darkest Somerset) But possibly the most enjoyable and valuable solo pursuit was people watching. And note taking.
If you were in a Kensington hotel, wondering who the creep with the notepad staring at you was then, yes, it was probably me. Staring. Note-taking. Creeping you out.
I’m not even sorry. I loved every minute of it.
Very few people notice if they’re being watched. On the tube, they stare at their phones, or their eyes glaze over in a daydream. In restaurants and coffee shops they become absorbed by their purchases. Bars are slightly different, I noticed that very early on. People look around them more in bars, are more likely to make eye contact with strangers, examine what those around them are wearing/doing/saying. This awareness of others makes them more self-conscious, more aware of being watched themselves.
Which is annoying, truth be told.
But still lots of fun.
What was even better, however, was the lightning bolt that hit me soon afterwards in the hotel lift. Metaphorical lightning, obviously. After spending the evening spying on unsuspecting hotel patrons the perfect narrative voice for my second novel suddenly clicked, just before the lift arrived on my floor.
Would that same voice have made itself known had I been back at home, writing on the sofa with earplugs and headphones on, blocking the real world out? Maybe. But I doubt it.
I think it was the connection with the outside that did it, the pistons firing in the part of my brain that controls my curiosity and, by proxy, my creativity. Wondering what these real people, right in front of me, might be saying to each other, might be thinking, gave me the perfect voice for the person I have invented.
Now I need to put that new voice to good use.