Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Heroic pen-pushers

Graham 'Bookman' Beattie comments on the post below this one on the quaint way writer Roger Morris appears to be writing a novel by hand. He wonders if there are many other writers who do this now.

Scroll down and take a look at the link - it's a little home-made movie of Morris scribbling in a notebook (remember those?) with an unbudgeable cat on his shoulders. Commenting on Morris' blog, kiwi author Rachael King asks fascinated: 'Do you write longhand first, or are those just notes? Or are you just pretending to write for the camera?'

Morris hasn't replied yet so we are none the wiser. It doesn't look like a trick. He seems quite relaxed about the method of writing but perplexed by the cat.

Responding to Bookman Beattie in the comments, I threw Michael Ondaatje's name into the ring as a pen-pushing author. I also mentioned Richard Ford but said I didn't know for sure. Anyway, a quick google clears it up. A fine article by The Guardian's Phil Hogan in 2006 describes Ford at home, including his writing den. Here's a snippet:

'..... Ford emerges cheerfully from the house in shorts, a plaid shirt, Converse All Star basketball boots ('I love these,' he says. 'I have two pairs') and what look like hand-knitted socks in purple and green. A bird takes off from somewhere high in the pine wood that borders the path. 'That's an osprey,' he says as it flaps out to sea.

We wander down to the boat shed, which is kitted out with a desk, an old armchair, a bed, a kettle, a bookshelf, oars, ropes, buoys, a barrel and a wood-burning stove for the winter months. There's a big wall map, too, of the New Jersey suburbs, where the Frank Bascombe books are set. This is where Ford writes, by hand, on unlined sheets of A4, transferring it, when he can be bothered, to a computer. He shows me the melted table top where during the Herculean editing processes of the past months an upended halogen lamp scorched its way through 350 pages of draft typescript, though miraculously his proof marks in the margin were intact. 'I felt I'd dodged a bullet there,' he says.'

Are there any others out there? I've certainly tried penning it from time to time - and like the way the words flow with less self-editing - but oh I do love a computer.


Roger Morris said...

Hi Mary, thanks for linking to my little film. I noticed a number of hits coming from you, so I came to investigate.

Yes, I do write into a notebook. Not exclusively, but at the moment I am finding it works for me. The computer these days is just too much of a source of distraction. I should be writing now, but here I am checking blog links!

What happened with the cat was weird. I sat down to write at the kitchen table - which is where I often do my handwritten writing. Molly, the cat, kept trying to get on my lap, and I kept pushing her off. The next thing I knew she was climbing up my back and had lodged herself on my shoulders. She had never done it before and hasn't done it much since. Yesterday she was nuzzling my hands as I typed and used the mouse. So even if I am at the computer she gets in the way.

Nice to discover your blog. You've reminded me that I very rudely haven't replied to Rachael's comment.

best wishes


Mary McCallum said...

She used the mouse!? (heh heh) Molly's clearly a genius cat, Roger. Maybe she's trying to communicate with you where your story should go next... My muse is a large anxious black mongrel who sits in the corner on an old chair. Thank God she doesn't think of trying to get too close to the action.

Thanks for visiting O Audacious Book by the way. Your movie made me laugh -- especially the bit when you tried to blow the cat off! Priceless.

Vanda Symon said...

Kiwi writer Bill O'Brien utilises the old fashioned pen and paper approach. He has a great arrangement with his lovely wife where he writes it, she enters it into the computer and edits as she goes while he does the housework. Bill tells me she's a ruthless editor and he does the cleaning to avoid the comments about his work.

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks Vanda. Seems like I get to do both sides of that arrangement ...!

Hey, could Maurice Gee be another pen-pusher? A little bird mentioned this to me but I have found no evidence even in his Penguin writer Q and A. I was interested to see, though, that he thinks The Scarecrow, by Ronald Hugh Morrieson is a 'terrifying comic masterpiece' and hugely underrated.Here's the link:,%20Maurice%20–%20author%20of%20Blindsight%20&%20Salt

Rachael King said...

I was talking to Staurt Hoar the other day, and I think I gleaned that he writes everything by hand first. Someone else who i can't remember said he gest his mother to type it up for him.

I write by hand when I need t o get out of teh office, or when I 'm hungry bit wnat to keep on writing. Like Roger says, it is a good way to get away form eth distractions inside the computer, and I often find I've written more in a half hour lunch break, and better quality, than I have for the rest of the day. The typing into the computer is a nice time to do some editing as well.

The world seems to be getting smaller with Roger commenting here - we met when I was in London a couple of years ago through my Zoetrope connections. I also introduced him to Carl Shuker who you have just posted about, and Vanda and Graham both just mentioned his shortlisting in the crime award (the name escapes me).

Mary McCallum said...

Yes, Rachael, I know what you mean about writing more in a half hour lunch break longhand (and of better quality) than you write in the rest of the day. Perhaps something different happens in the brain when the hand literally moves across the page...

This just in from pre-eminent NZ writer Maurice Gee:

'The answer is yes, I still write with a biro in 1B5 exercise books, on the right hand page, leaving the left free for alterations, additions and notes to myself. I reckon I can work quicker and with less fuss than on a computer, there’s no superstitious or atavistic reason for it - just a practical and long practice one. When I’ve done as much correcting as I can on second third fourth etc. readings I put the story on the computer, with two fingers, and do my final close editing.'

Thank you to the indefatigable Graham Beattie who did the research for that!

Rachael King said...

I just 'Oh my God!' really loudly and realised the people in the adjoining offices (walls very thin) must think something terrible or wonderful has happneed to me. But it was the realisation that Maurice Gee and I use the same exercise books! Oh joy, I must be doing something right! A sign perhaps, to get away from the computer more with my trusty 1B5...

Mary McCallum said...

I'd say so, Rachael. I'm tempted myself now. I don't use 1B5's, though.

When I know I'll be on the run and not in sight of a computer I take my cardboard-covered Moleskine journal. Same size as a 1B5 but none of those inhibiting school connotations. They have the added attraction of being used by the likes of Earnest Hemingway ... (ahem)

Anonymous said...

I am a handwriting moleskin girl, I prefer the skinny ones so then I can kid myself when one is full that i have done so much, must be working as up to 165k words on most recent work ( word count is worrying me...) the downside, is having to type it all up

So glad to hear the handwriters are out there