To be clear, I don’t think I’d have a career as a writer at all if it weren’t for the invention of the word processor. I can’t spell, and I’m never going to be a ‘one perfect line at a time’ author. My novels grow by a process of accretion, and each one is a palimpsest.
But try and take my notebooks away from me and… well let’s just say I spend a lot of my working life working out how to kill people.
I have seen pictures of writers’ studies where a particular sort of notebook is collected in neat ranks - the testament to a lifetime of devotion to a particular brand, size and paperstock which verges on the fetishistic. I’m too much of a magpie for that and there are too many different appealing textures of cover and paper for me to be so monogamous. That said though, I realise I’ve developed patterns and preferences and have in my own way become just as rigid as anyone else. I have categories.
Often I never reread them, the good stuff I remember and the rest sort of sinks back into the subconscious somewhere for mining later. The act of writing these things down though does give them more of a chance to hang on, somewhere in the brain where they might be useful one day. My shiny notebooks will, of course, be used in evidence when my husband finally gives up and tries to get me committed.
For research I need something bigger, something that looks a bit more serious. It’s probably a way to deal with that impostor syndrome one often develops as a writer of historical fiction. The Proper Historian appears, sneering, and says ‘how dare you write about history? You know nothing! Where is your PhD?’ I fend them off with my Moleskine© Ruled Cahier Journals - Kraft Brown - Large, saying ‘Ha! No! But I have a really good notebook and I’ve written in very neatly,’ adding, sotto voce, ‘often with a fountain pen.’
Then there are the ‘working things out in prose’ notebooks. I discovered a stack of perfect ones for this in a shop under my mother-in-law’s house in Porto. Ned tried to take one once - probably to write notes about cheese in - and we almost got divorced. They are cheap exercise books and full of attempts to get plots in order - so I end up with pages of fairly neat progressions then WHY? written huge and coloured in - or BLACKMAIL? (underline star star star). Ah, yes. In this picture it’s BLOOD. These might form exhibit two in my committal hearing.
And finally - and just visible in the first picture - there are the huge sheets of drawing paper which are the starting point for a book. They often get covered in doodles too, but mostly are spider diagrams, with one side of the page getting crowded with names and short hand for scenes, while other limbs dangle out lonely into space, waiting for the next thought to anchor them.