Posted in Writing

Why I’m Writing My Books By Hand in Fountain Pen

photo of vintage Parker Lady Pen
My favourite fountain pen – a vintage classic

This post was inspired by my author and editor friend Belinda Pollard, who posted on her Facebook page recently that she’s trying to write by hand rather than direct on to her computer, and asking for other writers’ experiences. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

“You write your books by hand? Are you nuts?”

That’s the typical reaction when friends discover that these days I’ve reverted to old technology to write the first draft of my novels: fountain pen and A4 wide ruled file paper, as we used at school and university.

Technology – Mightier than the Pen?

In this golden age of technology, when we have so many labour-saving alternatives at our disposal, why am I not typing straight onto my computer? After all, I am a very fast touch-typist. (Most useful skill I ever learned! – read my post on that topic here.)

And why, when I have a digital hand-held voice recorder and Dragon Dictate voice recognition software on my PC, am I not sitting back and dictating my stories? Especially as I have rheumatoid arthritis which restricts the mobility in my hands.

Dictation has its attractions, eg it encourages you to write more fluidly in natural speech patterns – especially helpful when your books contain a lot of dialogue, as mine do.

I’ve tried all of these routes – though I’ve yet to have the luxury of dictating to a real person, Barbara Cartland style! (I don’t have the requisite little dog either!) I dictated my second novel, Trick or Murder? in its entirety, (boy, did that speed things up!) The other novels have been a mix of typing and dictation.

Back to the Fountain Pen

But now I’m writing my seventh novel entirely by hand, and I’m loving it, especially since I discovered some interesting justification: that writing by hand connects with the brain in a different and more creative way.

Why fountain pen rather than ballpoint pen, fibre tip or pencil?

Fountain pen is easier on the hand as you don’t have to press hard. Use a good quality ink and pen and it flows effortlessly across the page, which is a pleasant experience aesthetically, and has a calming, meditative effect, no matter what you’re writing.

Sample of handwritten manuscript with pen
The story so far… the current manuscript for Sophie Sayers’ sixth adventure, Murder Your Darlings.

20 Reasons to Write by Hand

If you’d like to read more about the benefits of writing by hand, click this link for a blog post listing 20 reasons, Although it is primarily talking about handwriting at school and college, many of the reasons apply throughout your writing life, as point 5 in their list makes clear:

In 2009, researchers at University of Washington found that elementary aged students who wrote creative stories with a pen on paper far exceeded the performance of their peers. Not only were the writers able to complete their assignments faster than the typers, they also wrote longer compositions with more complete sentences. Perhaps this is why so many novelists prefer to compose their first drafts in longhand form – that is, with pencil and paper – despite having access to a computer of typewriter.

I especially like their final point: that pen and paper aren’t connected to the internet and all of its distractions! Increased productivity is definitely a plus point.

On the Other (Inky) Hand

Of course, there are downsides – not least, if you’re using a fountain pen as I do, inky fingers, and the blue scar on the pine floorboards beneath my desk where I dropped a bottle of ink, having lifted it up by the top, only to discover it wasn’t screwed down tight!

photo of floorboards stained blue with ink
The inky floor beneath my desk

And the manuscript still has to be typed eventually. If you type it up yourself, you can count that as the first round of editing, as you’ll inevitably make a few tweaks and corrections as you go along. As I’m currently short of time, I’m using an author services company, Zedolus.

Over to You

How do you prefer to write whatever you need to write? I’d love to know!

Meanwhile, Like to Join My Mailing List?

To be among the first to know about my new booksspecial offerscoming events and free downloads, just type your email address into the box above and click the grey button. I promise I won’t share your email address with anyone else and you may unsubscribe at any time. Thank you!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Have You Seen My Latest Novel?

Secrets at St Bride’s – A School Story for Grown-ups is now available in paperback and ebook. It’s a fun, gentle blend of cosy mystery and romantic comedy set in an eccentric English girls’ boarding school. As the series title suggests – “Staffroom at St Bride’s” – it’s about intrigues among the staff rather than the girls, but it will appeal to anyone who enjoyed reading school stories when they were younger, from Malory Towers to Chalet School to Molesworth! Click here to find out more about it and to read the opening two chapters for free.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Why I’m Writing Novels Set in Boarding Schools (For a Grown-up Audience!)

Well, what’s not to love about novels set in boarding schools? Most of us grew up enjoying the likes of Malory Towers and The Chalet School, even if we never set foot in a boarding school ourselves.

Although the world of vintage boarding school stories may seem dated by modern standards, to adult readers, they continue to grip young readers and retain the allegiance of those of us who read them as children ourselves

What’s in it for Readers?

For readers, there’s something compelling about the world of the boarding school, with its unique rules and vocabulary that wouldn’t make sense beyond its boundaries. Readers enjoy joining that fantasy world and feeling a part of it – hence the huge merchandise sales for the Harry Potter franchise.

The setting naturally throws together disparate characters with interesting and varied backgrounds, all great ingredients for a story.

The tropes of boarding school life will be familiar to adults who grew up reading Chalet School et al, which means there is plenty of scope for gentle humour built on their fondess for these vintage classics.

What’s in it for Writers?

For the novelist, the boarding school offers a contained community in which characters are thrown together with no escape. They must face challenges and overcome them together, and their characters grow in the process.

To a writer of mystery stories, the boarding school, usually segregated from the outside world by a clear physical boundary, presents a neat device to isolate victim, suspects and onlookers while the crime is solved.

In the Footsteps of Agatha Christie (but with more laughs…)

St Bride’s isn’t quite as isolated as Agatha Christie‘s famous stranded train in Murder on the Orient Express (it’s just a bike ride away from Wendlebury Barrow, the village in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and there is some cross-over between the two series) – but you get the idea.

(Incidentally, my current work-in-progress, Murder Your Darlings, the sixth Sophie Sayers mystery, is set on an island beset by a storm, from which none can escape, and which the police can’t access – as in Christie’s And Then There Were None, although my body count will be much lighter.)

St Bride’s School provides a unique and eccentrica environment for the education of girls

Why Me?

There’s another reason I chose to write about a boarding school. It’s a world I know well, having worked in one for thirteen years, as a member of the office team rather than as a teacher. I loved the sense of community, just as I love the community spirit of the Cotswold village in which I’ve lived for nearly thirty years, so this is in part a celebration of community. The world of St Bride’s is completely fictitious, with all the characters and situations completely invented, but the school I worked at was the springboard for my imagination, just as living in Hawkesbury Upton inspired me to invent the world of Wendlebury Barrow in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries.

What’s Different about St Bride’s?

While I have fun with school routines and customs such as the prefect system and school dinners, the focus of the St Bride’s series will be the behaviour of the staff. I remember as a schoolgirl being fascinated by the secret world of the staffroom, and the formal relationship fostered between staff and pupils.

For example, at the girls’ grammar school I attended between the ages of 11 and 14, pupils were not allowed to know the first names of staff. In Secrets at St Bride’s, the girls are running a book on the teachers’ names. One of the younger pupils speculates that Miss Bliss’s initial O in stands for “Obergine” – because she’s heard the Geography teacher, Miss Brook, complain over her moussaka at lunch that she hates aubergine.

However, at St Bride’s, the secrecy goes one step further: the staff keep secrets not only from the girls, but from each other, with potentially deadly results. With the story told by new arrival Miss Lamb (but you can call her Gemma!), you, the reader, will become slowly acclimatised to school life as she does. Together you unravel the surprising secrets that are putting the community at risk.

What I Don’t Write About in this Series

What I’ve steadfastly avoided in this series is the kind of boarding school scandal that pops up now and again in the media or in memoirs. You won’t find any corporal punishment or abuse at St Bride’s – it’s a gentle, caring environment, but not without perils of a different kind. What are those perils? You’ll have to read the books to find out!

How to Order Your Copy of Secrets at St Bride’s

The first St Bride’s novel, Secrets at St Bride’s, is now available to order online and will soon be available to order from high street bookshops too.

As ever, if you read and enjoy the book, please consider leaving a brief review online, to encourage others to read it too! Thank you very much!

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Halloween vs Guy Fawkes Night? – Sherlock Holmes Helps Me Decide

A quick ponder about the merits and demerits of the way we celebrate 31st October and 5th November

 

Policeman saluting outside Sherlock Holmes Museum
Sherlock Holmes, we salute you – outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street last week

As we were clearing away the debris of Halloween late last evening, blowing out the candles that lit trick-or-treaters to our front door, my thirteen-year-old daughter turned to me and said “So next up is Christmas, then”.

I was taken aback when I realised that 5th November, aka Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night in the UK, was completely off her radar, despite a regular community bonfire party in our village and a family fireworks party at my brother’s house.

My incredulity was compounded when, by chance watching the Sherlock episode in which some children pass Holmes with a guy* in a pushchair calling “Penny for the Guy“, she had to ask what that was.

Badge saying "I am Sherlocked)
Big fans in this house – still trying to convert my daughter to the Jeremy Brett series, though

A Different Era

The last time I felt such a disconnect was when, some years ago, in the PR office in which I worked at the time, I was complaining about something being difficult and said “This is as bad as decimalisation.” Cue a chorus from the pool of young secretaries in whose office I happened to be holding forth: “What’s decimalisation?”

For information, because even fewer people will remember it now, and for the benefit of my non-UK readers, decimalisation** was when British currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings and pence (20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling) to decimal currency (100 pence to a pound).

It makes me feel even older to recall that this was the office in which I first came across that weird new gadget, the computer mouse. I thought it would never catch on.)

A New Beginning

This was a timely wake-up call, because today I’m starting my third annual NaNoWriMo stint to draft 50K words in a month, and this year I’ll be using it to write the first draft of Trick or Murder, the second in my new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery.  This is set in October and November, and in it a new vicar comes to the village of Wendlebury Barrow and tries to ban Halloween and replace it with Guy Fawkes Night – something that most of the village children have never heard of. A vicar inciting parishioners to burn someone in effigy at the stake? As it turns out, all is not what it seems with this curious new addition to my colourful cast of characters.

NaNoWriMo logo
I’m not sure why the viking helmet is up there; it’s not part of my usual writer’s toolkit

But hang on, I hear you cry – if this is your third NaNoWriMo project, how come you haven’t yet published any novels? Watch this space! Early in 2017 I’ll be publishing the first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Best Murder in Show, which was my 2015 NaNo project, and my 2014 NaNo has morphed into #6 in the series, Murder Your Darlings.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s a cosy mystery series (or cozy to you, my American friends), and it’ll be packed with what Mari Howard, reviewing my short story collection Marry in Haste, “the Debbie Young brand of sly and wry humour”. More news to follow soon. If you’d like an advance preview, join my free Readers’ Club, as I’ll be sending out a free sample to my mailing list prior to publication. You’ll also receive a free short story to read in the meantime when you sign up.

But now you’ll have to excuse me – I’ve got to dash to write my first daily 1667 words …

Cover of the Ladybird book entitled James I and the Gunpowder Plot
Image: Amazon UK

*For the benefit of those who don’t know what a guy is in this context, it’s an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Ever since, he has been burned on bonfires, amid celebrations with fireworks, on the anniversary of his gunpowder plot, 5th November. More information is inevitably to be found on Wikipedia here

**More about decimalisation here, but not from Wikipedia. Hurrah. 

*** More about NaNoWriMo here: www.nanowrimo.org