Every writer should carry a notebook, right? A little book (or perhaps a big one), tucked away at the bottom of a favourite handbag or nestling inside a well-worn coat pocket, waiting patiently among the crumpled up tissues and packets of mints, for that moment of inspiration to strike its owner. Then it has its moment of glory; hastily grabbed for the brilliant plot idea, or the description of a just-seen location, or the perfect book title to be scribbled down. As someone (me) once said: ‘a writer without a notebook is like a painter without a canvas’ – pen or brush are of little use without anything to capture that moment of inspiration on and there is only so much you can fit onto to back of a till receipt or parking ticket.
When I started writing seriously a few years ago, I was given some advice to always have a notebook to hand. And not just any old standard-issue school copybook either, but the loveliest notebook I could find. I have found many, many lovely ones since and have also been the grateful recipient of many lovely others over recent birthdays. This – I suspect – is why I now have a collection of no less than eight notebooks.
Some wait patiently by the bed for my middle-of-the-night, bleary-eyed scrawlings. Some lurk in handbags, ready for me to pounce on them when I find myself waiting for a friend to join me at the coffee shop. Some sit quietly on the end of the kitchen table (aka ‘my office’). Others seem to disappear for a while and then turn up in winter coats or glove compartments of cars and, like the proverbial three bears, they come in all sizes: small, medium and large. But, whatever their size or usual location, without exception they are all pretty things: be-jewelled or festooned with butterflies, covered in flowers or depictions of replica Art Deco patterns. Sometimes I don’t write anything in them at all; I just flick through them for the sheer joy of seeing those empty pages awaiting my words.
I didn’t intend to have this many notebooks – I just seem to be particularly good at collecting them. And, of course, I can never throw them away, just in case that brilliant thing I wrote down once while I was on a train to Galway is needed as a vital piece of dialogue or character description at some point in my writing future.
Notebooks are quite probably a window into a writer’s soul: one look at mine and you could easily draw sweeping conclusions about my writing or my personality (or the state of my house). My notebooks are not always logical or neat. They are not regimented or organised. They are spontaneous: the result of sporadic thoughts, impulses and surprising inspiration. I am occasionally tempted to sensibly organise them into an ‘Ideas’ notebook and a ‘W.I.P’ notebook; a descriptions notebook and a characters notebook. There would probably be some sense in doing this, but I won’t, because I like my chaotic musings. I somehow remember which notebook I wrote a particular thing in and roughly where it is in the book and whereabouts on the page. Occasional doodles point me to things I considered to be particularly brilliant at the time, just to make sure I don’t forget about them.
Who knows, perhaps one day in the future, when I’m a renowned writer in my senior years, people will gaze with fascination at these notebooks of mine; at the humble beginnings of what – eventually – became a literary classic. In the same way that we look at Beatrix Potter’s early sketches of Peter Rabbit, and wonder at architectural designs scrawled on the back of paper napkins, perhaps these little scribblings of mine will become of cultural importance.
Yeah – probably not. But I’m keeping them anyway. All eight of them.