Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Holy Grail of Writing

Monday the 10th of September was a special day in London for me. Not only was it my opportunity to join the thousands of fans cheering the Olympic champions, it was also my opportunity to see to see what I refer to as The Holy Grail of Writing. I went to The British Library, for the very first time, in London to see an exhibition called "Writing Britain".

From the Library's website.

From William Blake to the 21st-century suburban hinterlands of J G Ballard, Writing Britain examines how the landscapes of Britain permeate great literary works. Over 150 literary works, including many first-time loans from overseas and directly from authors: sound recordings, videos, letters, photographs, maps, song lyrics and drawings - as well as manuscripts and printed editions.

My reason to go to this exhibition was twofold. First was out of curiosity to visit the British Library, after all they hold first and second editions of my book, "Step by Step Guitar Making", and secondly and most importantly, I wanted to see the exhibits of successful writers notebooks. As a not-yet published author of novels I thought it would be inspirational to see how others, who precede me, went about putting down their thoughts and  ideas on to paper. I was so reassured as a writer when I saw, for instance this page of typescript, with corrections, from J G Ballard's "Crash". It could even be one of my pages of writing. 

This example, as are others, are photo'd from the book "Writing Britain" which I purchased when at the exhibition, paid full price for the hardback.

 These pages are from GK Chesterton's "Napoleon of Notting Hill", he wrote with pictures as well as words, the expressions on the faces tell a lot about the characters. In this notebook extract he is writing in pencil which probably allowed him to sketch and write at the same time without having to cart ink and pen around with him. The use of a pencil is unusual compared with the other exhibits that I saw which were written in black ink. This fact is also interesting as pencil manufacturing went back as far as 1565 in Cumberland and by 1662, though inferior to the British pencil, were being mass produced in Nuremberg.

Sketching with a pen wasn't a hindrance for John Betjeman. This is his sketch of Dalston station in London. The station was closed in 1986 and now, sadly, no longer exists. It was destroyed in the building of the East London Line extension which forms the new link from Dalston junction to Croydon.

There were at least one hundred exhibits of notebooks and pages from notepads on display. I used up two fountain pens worth of ink while taking notes on ten pages of A4 paper.

There was a policy of no photography in force and probably for a good reason, most of the writing could suffer from exposure to the light given off from camera flashes, which would have been necessary due to the very low levels of light. This in itself gave me a problem, till I get my new glasses I am reading with 1.5 eyes. The surgery on my right eye has been a success, even improved, unfortunately the doctor does't operate on spectacles.

Some observations about the writing on display, The older the writing the smaller and neater the writing. All written in ink, which probably obviated the use of pencil due to the required accuracy and readability of the prose. Maybe the possible cost of paper had an influence of the size of writing, some as small as our equivalent font size 4. The example of Charlotte Bronte's writing from "Shirley"  chapter 2, first page shows her perfect, almost copper plate, style of writing. No corrections or changes shown in the example. Compare that with the example from J G Ballard's example above.

Seeing a first-hand slice of  writing history, from Shakespeare to J K Rowling, has re-kindled the desire to continue with my writing. As I wandered round the exhibition during my two and a half hour visit I experienced one of those rare, "Coming Home" feelings, I truly believe I belong in the world of creative writing.

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