Friday, 19 March 2010
Tools of the Trade
Hilary Mantel wrote a lovely piece for the Guardian recently where she talked about her passion for stationary. When the new catalogue arrives, she loses herself in it for hours, browsing everything from notebooks, pens and paperclips to ‘biscuits, buckets and bayonet fitting bulbs.’
I too am a stationary addict. The only part of Mantel’s article I couldn’t identfy with, was her view that fixed-spine notebooks like the Moleskine are ‘death to free thought’. She believes you have to be able to shift notes around to create a novel but being rather linear of mind, I rather like Moleskine notebooks. [Maybe this is why she is a brilliant and successful novelist and I’m not]. Anyway, this got me thinking about the tools of the trade and what is absolutely necessary to me to write.
First up, I must have the right pen. And that pen is the Pentel Superb, with its lovely fine nib and lack of inkiness. Since being a small child I have always written in a cack-handed way, with my hand curled over and above what’s gone before. This means I spent my childhood with indigo mitts. Secondly, I need a notebook that isn’t too fancy but is allowed to have a utilitarian beauty, if that makes sense. My husband bought me a beautiful red leather notebook the Christmas before last and I find it almost too gorgeous to use. It currently languishes by my bed in case I get any noctural inspiration. So far, I’ve only written on two of its pages. I’m currently into Moleskine exercise books, which are very pleasing [sorry Ms Mantel].
But what is this obsession with using the right stationary? I’m sure if I was holed up in a foreign prison I’d write on a dirt floor with a stick if I had to. The urge to write is powerful and once, bored in a playground while my children ran about, I resorted to writing story notes on my mobile phone. And I don't have an iPhone or a Crackberry, so it was a laborious process I can tell you.
Maybe this desire to use equipment that is just right has a purpose. I’ve heard many writers say they believe there is some connection between brain and hand that triggers the creative process and allows stories to grow and breathe. Even though I use a computer to do most of the work, there are times when nothing beats writing in a notebook by hand. I wonder whether this has its origins in the time when all we had was a stick to use in the dirt or the wall of a cave. Humans have always told stories and its thought this desire may be hard-wired into our brains. Maybe our ancestors argued over which stick had just the right amount of definition to make the perfect mark.