Pens, Pencils, Computers – Guess My Favourites

Writing – again.

The last few weeks have been really fun. Hard, but fun.

I am in the middle of the next book for Simon & Schuster, which is to be an action story based on the Hundred Years War, with the campaign that finally led to Crécy, and I am enjoying it enormously. However, then this other project came up …

My agent (Blessings be upon him) came up with a client who has a brilliant story, but needed help to get it written. Being the master of business that he is, he got his other client and me into a room and locked the door for an hour or so.

The result is, I have a different project to work on.

So, when I say I’m writing a ghost story, I don’t mean I’m now heavily into Gothic script and tall towers with malevolent, black-cloaked figures peering over the upper walls, I mean I’m writing someone else’s story. Or the outline and a few samples, anyway, until we get the contract agreed. Main thing is, it’s a hugely harrowing tale, with two people who suffer from the worst of the Depression and Nazi persecution.

As I say, it’s harrowing, but it’s a brilliant story, and there’s a superb twist at the end, making it deeply satisfying too.

At the same time, earlier this year I was invited to work with a director on a documentary about the book industry, with specific reference to ebooks and how they’re affecting people. That was fun – and it led on to a chat about other possible projects. So now I’m doing a treatment for her, with two outlines which could well prove very interesting as well. And I’m not saying why, no. You’ll have to wait to find out – if they ever get off the ground.

But the main thing is, while researching the Hundred Years War and a ghost project is all very fine and dandy, there are things a writer needs. Clearly I need this thing (taps computer), and this (tablet), but there are other things that make writing more enjoyable.

One thing that is wonderfully delightful is a printer.

No, I’m not joking. A couple of years ago, it died, and in recent months when I’ve needed something printed I’ve had to go upstairs and ask (very politely) whether my wife could print it for me. Usually she’s OK.

Owing to the Horrible Hewson (author of THE KILLING. I’m not jealous

) I was persuaded to sell my iPad to get an HTC Flier, which has two key attributes: one, it is small and fits into my cargo pockets in my trousers; two, it has a pen. No, I mean it. I can send a book to my Flier, and there revise my work, edit, draw scribble writing all over it, add, delete lines, all in red. I haven’t had to print anything for months. That makes life a great deal easier on occasion.

Hmm. It works, but I’m still convinced that the iPad was more … don’t know, coherent somehow. It just works – in some ineffable way all of its own – rather better than Android boxes.

What the hell. The main thing is, I’ve recently been forced back to paper because of receiving reams of paper for the ghost project. And with other stuff I needed to do, I got around to working on the printer and mending it (a background flogging HP Laserjet 8s for Wordplex and Wang finally paid off).

So I began searching for a way to work with paper again.

My current editing/writing tools of choice. Yes, I still love the Conway Stewart, but I dare take these ones out with me daily!

First, I got some Faber Castell pencils. I have used highlighters for years – and I hate them. There is something about the feel of a drying highlighter that drives me potty. It irritates the hell out of me that they dry out so fast, and then it annoys me even more to think of all the landfill being stuffed full of gaudy yellow plastic. In preference I use a dry-highlighter. It’s basically a pencil with hugely bright lead. And it works superbly without drying more than it needs.

But a highlighter is only a part of my investment. I also got a brilliant pair of pencils, one with a 3mm lead, one with a 5mm. These clutch pencils are superb for marking out flow charts, for emphasising important points, and for just about anything, including sketching my old Ridgie when I’m really bored.

Yes. Her.

And last of all, but Dear Heaven, definitely not least, I finally bought another fountain pen.

I have wittered on about pens often enough in the past.

I love a good, heavy, fat pen. My Conway Stewarts are, basically, beautiful. I have a Drake in solid silver that is my real favourite to write – the balance is perfect for me, the nib a sheer delight; then there is the wonderful Michael Jecks pen, which I rarely take out purely because it is truly irreplaceable; and finally, a gorgeous black Churchill, as fat as Winston’s favourite cigar, and even more beautiful. All three write like a dream, and I adore them.

There’s only one catch.

Look them up on the internet and take a squint at their prices. Yes. Those are the prices for each one, individually. Rather a lot, isn’t it? And bearing in mind my favourite pencil, the Graf von Faber Castell Perfect Pencil got itself lost this year while I was walking the dogs, I don’t fancy taking my Conway Stewarts out of my office when I go working. I know I will lose them.

Which is why I bought a Kaweco AL Sport.

It is small, and fits into any pocket. It is – to my mind – beautiful, with a slender barrel and fine grey colour, and it writes like a pen that costs ten times as much. It has a steel nib, but the damn thing is as near perfection as I can imagine.

The only problem I have right now, is that all the work I have to do is the mass-typing stuff. What I really, really want is a few days to sit down with my pen, highlighters, pencils and a pad of really good Rhodia paper, and scribble, scrawl and sketch.

But I can’t. Blast.

Oh, and before I forget, I will shortly have to blog about another fabulous invention soon. It’s a software package that almost makes me happy not to be using a pen: Aeon Timeline. I have been using it to get the timeline straight for my WWII story, and it’s proved invaluable.

Especially since it integrates fully with Scrivener. Basically it’s saved me about a fortnight’s work in the last three days.

Watch this space.


I should just say that I bought all my pens and pencils from a rather wonderful little store call Cult Pens. I used them originally because they are based in Tiverton, the town which inspired my Templar series, and I’ve carried on using them because they’re brilliant to deal with. I have no axe to grind – I don’t earn money for endorsements, sadly – although I live in hope of Simon the MD buying me a beer sometime – but every order I’ve put in with them has been despatched the same day and invariably arrives the day after. Their staff are helpful and knowledgeable and actually seem to like pens.

Which I like.

If you’re interested, look them up at Personally I’m thinking I may need another Kaweco AL Sport in black plastic before too long. I’ll be sure to have a need if I can just sit down and think it through …

I love the Bernese too, yes. But you try to subtly shade a dog that’s basically mostly black.

6 Responses to “Pens, Pencils, Computers – Guess My Favourites”
  1. akhenkhan says:

    The Mark 1 Eyeball still remains my main editing tool Michael. I can take it anywhere, it works whether wet or dry, or even full of dust. It never needs to be sharpened and best of all, I never mislay it. :)


  2. Paul Sinasohn says:

    You might take a look at the G. Mazzuoli line called “Officina 365” – nice and big and fat. Also, some of the Retro 51 Tornado pens are really nice, though they don’t all come as fountain pens.


  3. knotrune says:

    I like the sound of the dry highlighters, will have to look out for some, thanks.


    • They’re so much more pleasant to use – I think so, anyway. Another nice idea is big ‘clutch’ pencils with replaceable leads of 5mm or so because now you can buy coloured highlighter leads to fit them.


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