Thursday, 5 July 2012

In Praise of Scruffy Notebooks

People sometimes laugh at the poor quality of my equipment. ‘Are you really drawing in that?’ comes the incredulous voice, as I scribble or sketch on the cheapest of cheap squared exercise books. But most artists know -- and I guess this goes for writers too – that nothing abets the ‘tyranny of the empty page’ quite as much as crisp leather bindings or fancy endpapers. Which is why many artists jot notes and scribble doodles all over the first few pages of their sketchbooks, to try and break the sense of preciousness that comes when you peel the price tag off. I sometimes let my children draw in mine, just so I can start off with a little honest mess.

The exact opposite of the scruffy jotter, though, isn’t a pristine Moleskine, it isn’t a book at all. It’s Microsoft Word. Writing almost feels like surgery there. Sadly, I still can’t do without all the crutches and aids the programme provides, I’m not nearly confident enough for that. But it’s not just the eye-strain and back ache that make me resent being dependant on the computer.  

In my book, Haunters, the troubled character of Eddie is in part my own little tribute to the loveliness and power of the unassuming school exercise book. With a pencil and a rolled up book in his pocket, Eddie feels he can tackle anything, if only he can get the chance to work it out on paper first. There’s going to be a lot more of that sort of thing in my new book. Not that I can talk about that yet, of course.
In the meantime, I’m just going to have to shrug off the comments about my ‘trashy little notebooks’ with a smile. And when, as sometimes happens, people give me beautifully bound books with my initials in gold on the cover – perhaps out of pity -- I’ll never be anything other than grateful. But that’s not what I aspire to. In writing, surely nothing is nobler than a scuffed-up and dog-eared exercise book, with just a few pages left to go.


  1. When I was a kid I used to read 'how to paint' books, and they would always tell you to buy the very best equipment, because only by doing that can you bring out the best in yourself. Now I think that's a load of rubbish. Apart from anything else, it turns something enjoyable into something expensive. Mainly though I think you're right that you get scared by the loveliness of the materials, and seize up!

  2. Yes, I get very annoyed by this idea that you have to spend a lot of money to be serious about drawing or writing. The reality is, you can get everything you need to start in a village shop for less than £1. Having the confidence to be start though, that's the difficult part.

    Thanks for the comment, Mike.

  3. The whole expensive kit thing is part of the reason I was so late getting work "out there". Not getting expensive kit increased my creativity.

  4. There's always someone trying to sell something. But I know someone else who made a sketchbook out of the back half of used envelopes and two staples. And what a wonderful thing to draw on!

    Thanks, Rachel


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