Working Again

I was chatting to Paul Johnston, the author of several excellent books (I recommend them), and he demanded to know whether I ever actually wrote anything. Well, Paul, yes I do, actually. I don’t spend all my time Morris dancing.

Thanks to Lynn and Ray Thorne for this photo.

Thanks to Lynn and Ray Thorne for this photo.

Writing is a tough job. No, seriously – the worst part is, that you’re never not working. You are always at home – or always at your office. Ideas come and then go with monotonous regularity. An idea that appeals at two in the morning as you’re going to bed, will seem so clear and obvious, but if you don’t note it down, it will disappear into the ether. And you did not have a piece of paper at the time, did you? So it’s lost forever.

Some years ago I got bitten by the bug of technology.

I have always loved the idea of anything that makes my life easier. I write using Scrivener from Literature and Latte because that software is the very best for anyone who needs to write books or anything else lengthy. Last year I began to use their Scapple package, because it’s a brilliant tool for braindumping. Before that, I was using Aeon Timeline for making sure my characters were all operating in real time and the murder didn’t actually occur three weeks after the body was discovered (I did see that in a thoroughly confused book once).

So some little while ago, I bought one of the first Apple iPads available, purely because I wanted to be more efficient.

There were good reasons for it.

First, the idea that I would always have it with me. It would be easier to carry than a laptop. And I could make notes on it whenever I wanted.

Then again, it is expensive to keep buying laser printers, toner and paper. Only natural, I thought, to get a tablet. Then I could send the manuscript to that, rather than printing. All my editing and reworking could be performed better on a fondleslab, obviously.

This was a simple concept, but it wasn’t as easy as it first appeared. Sending books to the iPad wasn’t intuitive or easy. I had to get the books into iTunes format, then move them from the main directory – just take my word for it. Not easy. But then I cracked it, and soon I was working.

I can still remember being on a train and a lady nearby commenting on my tablet with awe. I was rereading an edited copy of ACT OF VENGEANCE at the time, and it was working well. I didn’t have to carry 500 sheets of paper with me, but only the iPad. No need for ink or pens, nothing. I could sit back in comfort and read. And yes, I know that an iPad is heavy compared with a book – or a Kindle – but this was me reading my as yet unpublished work. The iPad was a wonderful improvement and a damned sight lighter than the print outs.

And yet …

When I got to twenty or so notes and corrections, it was a bit slow. The iPad couldn’t quite cope with the number of amendments I was making. I was correcting at least once in every couple of pages. The refresh speed slowed alarmingly. In fact, after two books I was persuaded. It wasn’t going to work for me. Much though I loved that iPad, it didn’t do the job I needed. Too large to carry all day, too hard to type on, too slow to edit. Its only real use was as a games machine. For that it was perfect (and the kids loved it). But that didn’t help me with my work either, when I had to wrestle it away from the children’s fists.

It was clear that it wasn’t the best device for me. Something else was needed.

Soon I was overwhelmed with desire. I had seen the future: it was an HTC Flyer.

HTC Flyer hard at work with an edit - nice machine, but wrong for me.

HTC Flyer hard at work with an edit – nice machine, but wrong for me.

A brilliant little device, full of cleverness and style. It allowed me to use a pen to write on the screen. Rather than stubbing a finger where I wanted to put something, I could put a red line through it, and then draw arrows and add in handwritten words. My notes could have comments appended and, best of all, when I returned to my office, the appended comments would appear on the iMac at home! It was fantastic!

Not only that, it was smaller. Only seven inches across the screen, it was petite enough to slide into a coat or trouser pocket. Yes, it was expensive, but it was cheaper than the iPad, so when I sold that, I used the money to buy an HTC. Sorted.

Or so I would have been. But …

The Flyer is a lovely little piece of technology, but it’s not as good in many ways as, say, an iPad. I loved that device because it was coherent and simple. The Flyer is, too, but I never grew to love the Android OS on it as much as I did the iOS on the iPad. It’s a simple taste thing. And while I could use it for editing, (and it was more like reading a book), the fact is, the text didn’t look quite the same, and when I used the pen to strike through or add text, it wasn’t easy. I’d have to write more carefully, because when on A4 I had plenty of space between lines, on the tablet, the spacing was less helpful. Which is why, more recently, while working on lengthy proofs, I’ve discovered that I need something else.

Basically, I need paper. It’s easier to work with. And, to be honest, when I go away, I can carry the book I’m working on. If it’s a problem, I can carry my magical MacBook Air, which is as light as a paperback and allows me to work on my book in Scrivener.

So I am going back to paper. It’s easier for the edits. But I’m rapidly realising it’s a damn sight easier for notes and general working too.

A few of my notepads. Can an author ever have too much paper?

A few of my notepads. Can an author ever have too much paper?

I have tried DayRunners, Moleskines, Time Managers, and File o Faxes, but nothing has ever quite hacked it. Trouble is, I like at least A5 sized notepads for writing. Smaller than that is OK for when I go out, but my notes take space. I usually need a bit more acreage when I’m putting ideas down.

The problem, of course, is that it is not always convenient. How do I carry them?

I wear Craghopper trousers most of the time. These all have massive map pockets on the right thigh, which will easily swallow a Moleskine book, but Moleskine paper is not good enough for most of my pens. When I am writing with my wonderful Visconti, or any of my lovely Conway Stewart pens, the ink bleeds through and smudges the page behind. Not good.

So in recent years the Moleskines have been relegated to second-division for my work, and I will grab, for preference, my Rhodia pads. These use thicker, much better quality paper, and I happily recommend them to anyone who wants good paper for fountain pens.

However, there is one difficulty. There’s always one, isn’t there? Nothing to do with the paper, or the bindings. That’s all fantastic. Rhodia is excellent quality. No. It’s the ruddy trousers.

I’ve been fasting on and off for the last few months, and it’s meant that I’ve lost some weight. Quite a lot. I’ve had to relinquish comfortable old trousers with fraying hems and pale, sun-bleached colours, and buy newer ones. And therein lies the problem. The newer ones have smaller cargo/map pockets. My Rhodia pads don’t fit!

What is a man to do?

In my case, it’s easy. Some while ago I saw the Midori Traveller’s Notebook, a ridiculously expensive item which is, basically, a sheet of leather with some elastic bands. But the more I’ve seen of the Midori, the more it’s grabbed my attention and interest. The leather is gorgeous, and ages well. It accepts bumps and scrapes with dignity and merely looks (like me) well-travelled. Or over-used in my case. The Midori gives me a notepad for ideas to do with my books, a sketch pad for when I’m out and don’t have a camera, a diary for daily use, and a section notepad for project notes, plans, and day-to-day lists. It is, in short, ideal.

Every so often I can collate ideas from my daily notes into my main journals at home, adding any extra thoughts as I go. Sketches of scenes, notes of comments from other people, everything can he held. Book plots and character ideas will go into the Rhodia A5 pad with separators. General notes to work on will end up in the A4 pads, and lists and things to do will stay on my desk in the other Rhodias.

The Midori is a little longer than wide, as tall as A5, but narrower. That means it’ll fit in all my cargo trousers, but it’ll also go in a jacket inside pocket. It will be with me all day long. No ideas need be missed ever again. And when I go to bed, the Midori can sit on the bedside table. Last thoughts can be scibbled before sleep. Or, more to the point, before I pick up a book and read. Because if I don’t have a little fondleslab, I confidently expect to read a lot more again.

Could the HTC do all this noting and stuff? You bet. But the temptation with the tablet was always to do a little more. I would check the news with it, because I could. I’d look at my emails, glance at Pinterest or Flickr, or do one of the other things I could – purely because I could. With a notepad, I won’t. Instead I will pick up a book and read for a bit. Which will, I reckon, enhance my life. Periods of my day will no longer be tied to technology.

And so the HTC will shortly appear on ebay. The funds released will go towards a new notepad and refills that I can use with my Visconti or Kaweco. And I am looking forward to it enormously.

Hopefully it’ll arrive before too long. Because it would be good to have it with me when I start to tour the south west with my latest book: TEMPLAR’S ACRE, from 6th June.

In fact I wish I had it for tomorrow. Saturday 18th May is the day for Tinner’s Morris to go dancing with Winkleigh Morris on an extended day of dance all over the north of Devon, ending up in Winkleigh again in the evening. It’ll be a great day. I’ll just have to carry a different notepad, that’s all.

Small armed services, but we do have sticks!

Small armed services, but we do have sticks!


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