White noise

I'm sitting in Helsinki, waiting for the Like Minds conference to start, the sound of my tapping set against a multi-layered ambient hum: nearest, calm and jargon-laced, the techies before me fiddle with microphones and ladders; to my right a cluster of folks by the door laugh in good-natured, Euro-tinted disharmony; through the door the adrenalin-flecked surf of foyer chat rises and falls. After a week in Patmos, it might seem a return to noise-filled, human-polluted reality - but the babble of background voices is one of my favourite soundtracks.

I'm sure it stems from childhood - curled in the car, or outside underneath the kitchen window, listening to my mother talk on the phone, to my sister play with her friends, to a family gathering. As the youngest child, I was often blissfully exempt from participation, happy to be the backseat lurker feeding off everyone else's extroversion. I was always around the corner, or one stretch of the garden further down, or halfway up the stairs - but my creativity, my private fantasies and secret dramas were buoyed by that reassuring swell of distant sociability.

London's a perfect playground for the social loner. I like to write in crowded spaces, bubbled within my own brain - this was taken of me, oblivious, tongue out, surrounded by Choo-footed, octopus-chewing bank holiday Sunday hedonists at Shoreditch House.

From London to Helsinki to the cupboard under the sink, these little pools of anticipatory, productive calm can be fantastic tipping-points for the brain. Find a corner, and listen, and write.