Ink & Paper

Ink 2

Paper 1

Ink 3

There's something special about writing with wet ink; there's a real connection that goes back to the first people who used ink to write on rice paper or papyrus. I have always thought there's a doctoral dissertation in The Effect on English Prose of the Fountain Pen. Surely, the rhythm of the writer changed when he didn't have to pause to dip his pen every sentence or two, and the structure of sentences will have changed. Based on that assumption, did Henry James use a fountain pen? Or, what about Hemingway? If he used one, the ink capacity must have been extraordinary small.

One thing I have noticed since preparing my books for printing is that the words are less sacred than I had supposed.

Most of my books have the same typeface, leading, page size, and margins. Whether I am flowing in copy prepared elsewhere, or writing direct into the final format, there are occasions when a single word or sentence carries over to a new page. This is both impractical, and unsightly. So, I might combine two paragraphs, or rewrite a sentence so that everything fits tidily. Word processing programmes do not have all the techniques that the traditional compositor had to make the pagination work. [Hey! Even Gutenberg had to reset his whole Bible three times.]

In MS Word, the spacing can be expanded or compressed, but I try not to go beyond 0.1 point in either direction. Sometimes that is not enough to make the line shift, so I have to result to changing the words. It might be replacing a character's name with "he" or "she", or vice versa.

When I was training as a journalist, we used conventional typewriters to produce the layouts of newsletters and newspapers. On one of them, after hours of pica counting, editing and rewriting, one of the team added a motto to our paper's title line: "All the news that fits."

Alas, things are much the same today.

I've always been fascinated by the way writers write.

Jane Austen used to write in her family's sitting room among the chatter with tape on her mouth to stop her from joining the conversations.

Somerset Maugham would write his novels and stories in long-hand, and the next day edit them in red ink before continuing with new text.

Lawrence Durrell would get up at six o'clock and write 1,000 words, usually finishing before ten, then spend the rest of the day reading, playing tennis, swimming, lying in the sun and drinking cocktails. when asked if he might be more productive if he worked longer, he replied, "Is 365,000 words a year not enough for you?"

When Thomas Wolfe became corpulent, he bought a refrigerator with a flat top. He took the door off and the shelves out and stood at it to write, with his stomach in the fridge, he could get close to his writing. He wrote on yellow legal pads in pencil. When he died, he left a pile of paper nine feet tall that his editor carved two long novels and a few short stories out of.

Today, most writers write on computers, but writing by hand gives a bit more time to think, and the whole process can feel less pressured. Editing is easier on paper, as is the organisation of ideas. I usually have a 3 x 5 card for each character with relevant information so I can avoid hair and eye colours changing halfway through the book.