Filling the vacuum
Messes, clones, and plots like a W

Familiar notebooks, notebooks as familiars

Many writers keep diaries, but I'm not one of them. Who else reading this was given one of those 'Five Year Diaries' as a girl, complete with dinky lock and key? Only I never got further than January the 10th, and I suspect the entries were very like the ones that Katy reads aloud from younger brother Dorrie's diary in What Katy Did. "Tuesday: Forget what did. Wednesday: Pudding for dinner. Forget what did." On the other hand I suspect too that if I went back to old novels of mine, I'd find them remarkably like the diaries I didn't keep.

I do like stationery, though, and used to lust after lovely paper for letters I don't write, and card and glue for grand projects I never finished. Nor did I have any use for gorgeous notebooks, because I didn't have the chronic urge of many proto-writers to set down thoughts and observations in something portable and always to hand. I became a writer by setting out to write a novel, longhand because we didn't have a computer. My notebooks had to be big and cheap: a novel of mine takes up about fifteen of them, and I hadn't yet got the hang of tax-deductible expenses.

They also had to be the same, so I could keep a rough wordcount going, at 130 of my big sprawly words per page. W H Smith still makes them, and I'll be buying a new set for the new novel. After a while I did start to keep one of them for bits of ideas and thoughts and, on the hoof, I scribbled in my filofax. When a friend gave me a Moleskine for Christmas, I was rather pleased, because I'd always slightly hankered after one but could never justify the tenner that seemed so extravagant for a small, blank book.

Extravagant? Not for what it turned out to be (and they've got cheaper since, too). First I discovered how nice it was not seeing my diary, and a disheartening list of jobs, duties and measurements, on the way to make a note about some transcendant sunset, or extraordinary conversation behind me on the bus. And then I realised just how good it is to have a good notebook. The page-marker, the elastic to keep it shut, the indestructible build, the ideal size... I could go on.

It's not that Moleskines are everyone's notebook; we all have our tastes in these things. But they're mine, even to the extent that when I wanted a bigger one to live on my desk, I bought - yes, you're right - a big Moleskine. The drawback is that they're the Ford of the notebook world: until recently you could have any colour you wanted as long as it was black, and most kinds of line as long as they were blank. I have to stick a big label on the second little one I've got for making academic notes when I'm reading on the train, to tell it from its creative writing twin.

But of course it's not just that these notebooks are practical and suit my purposes. It's also a little bit of voodoo. There's something about that fat, firm little volume in my hand; the rounded corners that can't get dog-eared; the smoothness of the paper under my or any pen, however horrid; the pocket just waiting for the found poetry of tickets and labels and abandoned shopping lists, and of corners-of-napkins when you didn't dare get it out to make notes; the snap of the thick elastic when I've written what needed writing, and time moves on again. I can't help thinking that as those words and thoughts and drawings rub together between the pages, by some sympathetic magic perhaps the words and thoughts and images in my head will also rub together, and set the sparks flying.

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