Hannah Cao

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©2022
Hannah Cao
Novelist & Poet

New year, new WIPs


JAN 3, 2022


*WIP: Work in Progress



At Youdu Academy, seven students are cursed with flashbacks to their previous lives. Realising they are connected, they race against time to prevent a dark fate that they can't seem to escape.
(Start of a trilogy)



Elliott Harvey comes home one day to find his partner, Irene Pham, and his three daughters missing. Nobody knows what happened to the Pham girls... until now, now that Elliott is dead.



Cafe at 46 Old Street: Backgrounds, origins, themes, FAQ 


NOV 27, 2021


For those who have already read and finished Cafe At 46 Old Street, this post is for you (if you accept it). Here’s a lengthy post of all things CA46OS related – from its background to its origins to character development and even themes, all the way until frequently asked questions...
Spoilers are possibly ahead, so if you’re not a big fan of that I advise you to finish reading the book before proceeding. <3 THANK YOU.
I didn't think of writing something like this, especially because now that the book is out in the world, it is not entirely mine anymore. Everyone will pick out something from it on their own terms, for their own liking, or disliking. And nothing is really up to me. It's odd knowing this and being so hyper-aware of this, but I also feel pride and comfort in sharing something with other people, whether they know who I am or not.
Even if it is shared now, the way readers will perceive the book will be so very different from how I perceived it as I created it, and how I perceive it now that it is done. Something that continues to be very dear to my heart is the fact that my first original novel-length piece of writing is this story about Cafe At 46 Old Street.
For those unfamiliar with me or my work – I usually share poetry, not prose. In all reality, I'm a big fan of prose, and not just reading it. I've attempted writing about twenty-something novels before, but Cafe At 46 Old Street was the first that I was really proud of and felt very timely for me. Usually I would grow out of my ideas, even those that feel recent, but I really let the story and the characters brew this time. (Ha. See what I did there?)
CA46OS is told in an alternating third person past point-of-view, a format that conveys the thoughts and emotions of the four main protagonists named Hanh, Winston, Clementine and Alexander. It was first plotted and brainstormed in a coffee and tea shop in Soho, London, in 2017. (I talked about it here: Behind The Scenes of Cafe At 46 Old Street — Hannah Cao)

Background

I know the story is cliché, I mean strangers meet at a cafe and become close, platonically and romantically and in minor or major ways change their lives.
In its barest sense CA46OS is a cliché. Anyone who knows me a little bit knows well that I have an obsession with coffee and coffee shops alike, so it’s only expected that the first story I ever pushed myself to absolutely see through from beginning to end was one that involved coffee and love and found or chosen family – three of the most wonderful gifts bestowed upon to mankind, in my humble opinion!
I'd like to think that it’s more than the cliché at first glance but a story about individuals and family, rather than a cup of coffee with a bit of romance on the side. When I wrote the story, I knew it was going to be character-heavy, not very plot-heavy. Instead of focusing on falling in love, Cafe at 46 Old Street deals with loving or accepting yourself first, and letting everything else fall into place and doing what your heart desires, even if some sort of loss is inevitable in the process.
But I digress.
In this sleepy cafe hidden by a construction site, works the owner Clementine and co-manager and friend and baker Alex, who've got secrets and worries buried in the nooks of themselves. Winston is a regular seeking refuge from his job and his ex and his grief at home, and Hanh has just moved to London after leaving her family and ex-boyfriend behind.
They can keep their lives to themselves and they’d be none the wiser, they can run away from whatever they're running away from and just ignore the way their lives had been put into pause, happily spending their days inside the cafe with each other as company.
But life is rarely like that. You can never just run away from everything and bury yourself in your routines. And this story shows you why and how in the blink of an eye, things can change. You can suddenly fall in love with a person you never thought was for you, and suddenly you have to decide between the only family you've got left, and love. Suddenly your sadness follows you into your new room in the new city and your plans don't actually happen. Suddenly you are dealing with grief after grief. Suddenly, your livelihood is on the verge of being taken away from you. In dealing with keeping their cafe and little lives whole, they discover not only bits and pieces about each other, but themselves as well. And since I love this very line so much from the synopsis, I’m going to use it again to end this part of the post: Slowly but surely, they all find their way back home.

Origins

There were many variations of asking me what inspired me to write Cafe at 46 Old Street, and answering the question hasn’t gotten any easier.
Everything inspired me to write this story. From the people in my life, both strangers and friends, to the thoughts that come unbidden because of my surroundings, and to events that seem to upturn not only my life but those close to me too – these are all pieces to Cafe at 46 Old Street's bigger picture.
It was born from my longing for the city after I moved back home to Germany, after my very life-altering time living in London, and the heart-shattering fact that the cafe I used to go to so often closed down due to the pandemic.
At first, I wrote about feelings and thoughts I had overheard during my many afternoons sat in that cafe, and knowing fully well that others might understand, knowing that the people saying them out loud weren't alone. Because in all honesty, they sounded very much alone at the time. Then the backdrop: The baristas making them smile from behind the counter, recognising their faces, showing curiosity about their lives.
The characters were inspired by baristas and customers I have met there for brief moments in time. I made them up with all the little details I caught of them, of many different people, compressed into these four main protagonists.

Themes

This is the first time I will ever attempt to dissect Cafe at 46 Old Street this way, so hopefully I give it some justice. I grappled long and hard on this one, limiting the actual themes of the book to just three; anyone who has read the book might agree with me that each Part sort of has a mini-theme of its own, but I attempted to get down to the nitty-gritty bigger picture and came up with just four main ones, thankfully.

1. Your dream doesn't have to be something grand. (Winston)
2. Small things can be big things. (Clementine)
3. The right way to live is to live for yourself. (Alex)
4. Forgiveness can be key to inner peace. (Hanh)

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve answered most from all my rambling up there, but here are some that I didn’t know where to place:

1. How did you decide on character names?
I have a list of favourite names, and the combination of these four sounded fitting. I also thought the sound of their names matched their personalities.

2. What's with the title, does Cafe at 46 Old Street really exist?
Nope! It was indeed inspired by a tea shop I would go to often but it closed down so it doesn’t exist at all anymore. The street was made up and so was the number.

3. What was the hardest part about writing a novel?
I think the hardest part was removing whole parts and chapters during the editing phase.

4. Was it scary writing a novel after a poetry book? Which do you prefer to write?
Which characters did you first come up with (finalise)?

5. How did you get published?
I self-published! More on being an independent author will be coming soon.

6. What did you want your readers to take away from the story?
Everybody takes away something else from a story; I suppose it will be the same with mine. All in all I hope my readers feel comfort when they are finished reading. And then my job is done.

Thank you so much again for your love and support. I remember the days when I used to write with a pen name, and now I am so proud of myself and the little community that supports me in all the small and big ways (all the ways are BIG to me). Thank you for giving me this chance. I love you.



My debut novel is out


NOV 1, 2021




If I stood on a rooftop where nobody would care about a screaming maniac, I would be doing just that: screaming like a maniac. However, I am not on a rooftop, and it is a freezing start to November and I still like to wear my skirts, so I’m not doing that.
I can’t believe my debut novel is here. For everyone in the whole wide world to purchase and read. What in the world?
Cafe At 46 Old Street is the first novel that I am brave enough to share with the readers who know me, and readers who don’t, readers who will find themselves in the characters, and others who won’t.
I am terrified. But honoured, and grateful, and excited, all the same. I also know constructive criticism will push me to do better, and a writer’s journey is never stagnant. It can only go up. I truly believe that.
To say I’m nervous about the reception of it is an understatement. But since it’s my very first novel, I won’t be too harsh on myself. I will give myself space and time to improve.

Cafe at 46 Old Street is a contemporary novel based in London’s Soho about an exuberant cafe owner, a newbie in town, a strictly sober bartender and a shy baker trying to find their place in the world, and in their own lives. The book is about chosen family, expectations and failure, and finding freedom in your growth. I call it a comfort read, which I find is fitting for the time of fall, and the month of November.

What I would love for my readers to take from the book is:


Your dream doesn’t have to be something grand. You can find home in more places than you think. The right way to live is to live for yourself, and with open arms. May little things become the big things, may even the rainy days become a source for solace.

Thank you


from the bottom of my heart. I did not expect so many people to be congratulating me and purchasing my book. I did not expect for people to be so excited about my book, and to look forward to it. I can’t express how grateful I am, to feel so seen and to be believed in. Thank you for giving my work a chance and supporting me in all the ways you found.

I hope you enjoy the read, and the journey, and I hope you find comfort.
May love fall and ends begin for you.
May little things become the big things,
May rainy days become home.



Foreword from my novel, Cafe At 46 Old Street


OCT 23, 2021




It was nearly dark when my friends and I got out at Embankment station. The air was cold and clingy, headlights hissed towards us, the sky morphed into deep Blues, and the smell of rain from a while ago was still alive in the pavement. It may have been late summer; the city was busy again. Already at half seven the bars overspilled onto pavements outside where there was chatter and laughter, infectious. As so many other times, we looked over the Thames, into the dozen eyes of the skyscrapers. One of us said, “Can you believe every one of those lights is a different person living a different life?” That was when we became excessively aware that the people we knew so well, the ones we had just met, and the strangers with the ciders outside the pubs, and the waiters, and the tourists, and the bakers smiling at us before seven o’clock, and us—we were all living little movies.
Often, we think we must’ve landed in the wrong scene. Then there are moments when we can’t believe our luck. It’s funny that this realisation came to me when I felt my smallest, my most insignificant. Perhaps it’s the size of London that makes its inhabitants seem somehow smaller.
Londoners, craving connection and acceptance. Some growing old, some falling in love, some in debt, some committing adultery, some trying to get on with the world, some crying at home. Some looking forward to a pension, some flying abroad every year, and some getting married, holding babies. Londoners, wanting to escape, wanting to come back. Londoners, struggling, and missing each other, and finding one another.
This story is about four of them.
This story is a love letter.