It’s Fountain Pen Day. You might not have heard of it before, but it takes place on the first Friday of every November. Perhaps unfortunately, that means it coincides with the time when a lot of aspiring writers will be letting their fountain pens gather dust, since it’s also the end of the first week of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month.
I spend every working day pouring words into a keyboard, but now and then I do need to write by hand, and usually have six different writing tools scattered about the desk. That’s them, above. Most of them are pencils as my spidery scrawl only seems to get worse when I’m using ink.
Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth 5.6mm clutch pencil
I have two of these. They’re the black ones at the top of the picture; one with a soft black lead, and one with multicoloured lead, which I originally thought I’d use for writing Christmas and birthday cards, but it turns out it’s great for striking off notes on a to-do list.
They’re both heavy, with metal bodies and a great industrial finish. When you unscrew them and look at the insides they look like something out of a cyberpunk illustration, and they make a decent thump as you put them down on the page.
Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth is a Czech art and writing equipment manufacturer founded in the 1790s, and it patented the first pencil lead in 1802, so it has some history. I’ve probably got more of its pencils than I should, with three or four narrower clutch pencils for general writing. The yellow one at the bottom of the picture is a half-length clutch pencil that neatly slips into the spine of a Moleskine pocketbook using a leather Quiver, which is my combo of choice for making notes on the move.
Sheaffer Targa fountain pen
This pen, the third one down in the picture, was the whole point of the post. Although I’ve got several other fountain pens, most of them Parker, I find this Sheaffer Targa by far the most comfortable to write with, and if I concentrate really hard and go slowly enough I can almost make my writing legible when using it.
Years of working with the keyboard means my handwriting is woeful, which is probably why I find pencils easier to work with. Nonetheless, if I was going to celebrate Fountain Pen Day this is the pen I would do it with. It’s beautifully balanced, perfectly smooth, and as it was an inheritance, it has sentimental value, too, which far outweighs its financial worth.
Ohto Sharp Pencil 2.0
Ohto is apparently very popular in Japan, but I don’t see its products all that often in Europe. In fact, I’ve never seen them in a shop, but I do have two of its mechanical pencils in my pot. One is a regular fine point (0.3mm) and the other is this rather beautiful alternative, which uses a 2mm lead.
They’re made to look like regular pencils, with rubbers on the top, and nine times out of ten they attract a comment when used in public. There’s something very satisfying about writing with a chunky pencil like this, which is probably why I also like the 5.6mm Koh-i-Noors, but with the narrower lead this is is more flexible for daily use.
Pink ballpoint pen from Tiger
Because, after all, who doesn’t want to write in pink ink?
What’s your favourite writing instrument? Do you still use a fountain pen, or have you got a favourite pencil you could recommend? I’m always keen to try a new scribbling implement. Drop a line to [email protected] and let me know.
4 November 2016 | Writing
There are two types of writers, variously known as ‘planners’ and ‘pantsers’. The former — the group into which I fall — are committed to planning the whole story from beginning to end before they start writing. The latter write by the seat of their pants, effectively making it up as they go along.
Not every ‘pantser’ knows where the story will end when they sit down to write, which seems totally illogical to me. How are you supposed to guide your reader through a satisfying story arc if you don’t know where that arc is leading? How do you set up tension, gauging how it should rise and fall as the story progresses? And how do you avoid writing yourself up a blind alley that you can’t get out of without unpicking a lot of what’s come before?
Good questions, none of which I can answer, which is why I plan. And I plan and plan and plan some more.
Perhaps I over-plan, but that’s the way I work best, and it gives me enough confidence in the story to start fleshing it out.
The first novel I wrote, which isn’t part of The Sarnian series, started as a 20,000 word outline. The outline for the first volume of The Sarnian was even longer than that, and took four years to translate into the finished book.
Planning methods and tools
My planning is a bit scrappy — literally. It’s a mix of bits of paper when thoughts occur, often for books a long way off in the series; emails sent from bed when the resolution to a particularly sticky plot point finally presents itself at night; and pages and pages of scribbles in my notebook.
Scapple is great for visualising links between different story elements, but OmniOutliner is my primary tool. It’s a professional-grade outlining application that I used to set out each thread of the book in different columns, with the events in the various threads organised as rows. That way you can see at a glance what’s happening simultaneously in each part of the outline.
The finished plan can be very big, as you can see from the image above. It’s a grab of the outline for The Sarnian book 2, Blowfish and you’ll see that I’ve also colour-coded events to make them easier to idenfity. It’s hard to gauge exactly how big it is, but for a rough idea, take a look at the menu at the very top of the screen, and you’ll see how much it’s been zoomed out.
Planning for The Sarnian book 3
I’m 90,000 words into book 3 at the time I’m writing this, and while I won’t share the outline here (zooming in might give a few clues about what’s going on), it’s been one of the most difficult to plan, largely because of what’s happening to one of the primary characters.
Although he is central to one of the major strands, there are various reasons, which again I won’t explain here, why his part of the story needs to be told third-hand, through the eyes of another character.
It means that the plan, in which the overall story arcs are fixed and each is progressing towards a single point of resolution, is undergoing more tweaking and adaptation as the story develops than was the case for the first two books in The Sarnian series.
That, on its own, has proved the value of planning thoroughly, and with software rather than on paper. It means I can see at a glance how changes to one part of the narrative might affect another, and lets me more easily manage the flow of the overall narrative to keep the story in check.
I’m hoping to have the first draft finished by Christmas.
15 October 2016 | Writing
You can now read The Sarnian for free, if you’re signed up to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme.
That’s a £1.99 saving on each book ($2.99 in the US), and with unlimited device usage enabled on both of them – and on all future releases – you can load them onto as many readers as you like, including smartphone apps, and pick up the story wherever you happen to be.
If you’re not a member of Kindle Unlimited, then don’t worry – the book is still available to buy, as before, and can be read on as many Kindle-compatible devices and apps as you require.
Sharing your books
Don’t keep a good thing to yourself – if you’re in the US.
Every book in The Sarnian series is authorised for lending, so US-based readers can share the story with other Kindle users for up to 14 days at a time. As soon as this feature is enabled outside of the US, we’ll add it to UK downloads, too.
To lend a book from The Sarnian series, log into your account at Amazon.com and navigate to Manage Your Content and Devices. Click the actions button (three dots) beside the title you want to loan, pick the option to lend it and enter the email address of the person you want to send it to.
28 August 2016 | The Sarnian
A body on a beach, an impossible alibi and an unstoppable race against time!
Check out the first book in The Sarnian series, set on the Channel Island of Guernsey.