Just an Inkling

The second volume of Lady Hardcastle’s adventures, The Spirit Is Willing, continues apace (well, at a slightly reduced pace, actually – progress hasn’t been nearly so swift as I had hoped, though I’m still more or less on target for a May launch).

User reviews of A Quiet Life… have been entirely positive so far and I’ve been surprised and delighted by the reaction from friends. I was a little self conscious about the whole thing at first and hadn’t actually intended to reveal that I’d written it. But I’m glad I did – it turns out that a lot of them like it (or are at least polite enough to pretend that they do).

But that’s not what’s moved me to write this.

I am left-handed. Like many left-handed children, I struggled with the arcane art of handwriting. Western writing, like much in Western culture, is a dextrocentric craft whose successful practice very much favours the right-hander. The right-hander pulls the pen, their fingers guiding it gracefully to form the letters. The left-hander pushes the pen, clumsily wrestling it to make it go where they want, and never quite achieving the same elegance of form as their right-handed fellows. I found handwriting hard to master and I have never been proud of the results. I was delighted when text editing software came to the masses in the late-’80s and I was finally able to put aside my pens and get on with the serious business of writing.

But lately, I’ve had something of an epiphany. I’m more or less addicted to Moleskine notebooks where I keep my notes and a journal of sorts. I’ve tried a variety of pens and eventually settled on a ballpoint that I rather liked. On a whim, I bought an inexpensive fountain pen a few weeks ago, intending to do the full tweedy-writer thing and make my notes with a proper, grown-up’s pen.

But of course I was disappointed. Somehow, despite a lifetime of knowing better, I imagined that a “nice” pen would be “nice” to write with and would make my writing “nicer”. But it looked awful.

I began to wonder why it looked so dreadful and eventually decided that even though my own handwriting was mostly at fault, at least part of the blame must rest with the ink. The “washable blue” ink in the supplied cartridge was insipid and nasty and I began to look around for alternatives. Parker (for it is a Parker pen) has always been my pen maker of choice (is there a proper word for a pen maker, I wonder… oh, it seems to be “pen maker”, how disappointing). Parker famously makes Quink ink and I was reasonably sure that in my youth it had come in a variety of colours (I remember washable blue, blue-black, black, red, and green, at the very least). It’s not a glamorous ink but it had a nostalgic appeal as the ink of my childhood. But now the high street shops stock only black and blue. And I didn’t like the blue.

I looked around. We have plenty of ink in the house. I might not be a fountain pen user, but my family loves them and I discovered a stash of mostly Waterman inks in a variety of colours. I tried one. It was much better than Quink.

But then I went online and found inky heaven. In 1670 a French sailor by the name of J. Herbin (my perfunctory research hasn’t established what the J stood for, though I suspect Jean) began producing ink in Paris. And the family company still makes ink today. And it’s superbe. The colour selection is impressive, but there’s something about the way the inks make me write that has a magic far beyond mere pigment. The “Perle Noire”, for instance, (surely Jack Sparrow’s ink of choice) is just a black ink. And yet somehow it magically isn’t. It’s probably just the romance of a 30ml bottle with a pen rest on it, made by a 344-year-old Parisian company, but when I scrawl my notes in it, it’s like there’s actual history coming out of the pen. A journal entry about book sales and the progress of the latest scene written in “Orange Indien” has life and vibrancy beyond the mere dusty orange of the ink itself, while a projected writing schedule in “Lierre Sauvage” isn’t just green, it’s like there’s actual wild ivy growing on the page.

So now, 40 years since I first wrote with a fountain pen, I finally get what all the fuss is about. Apparently, all you need is a decent ink.



A Quiet Life in the Country is available exclusively on Kindle through the Amazon Kindle store at:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

It’s at all the other Amazon Kindle stores, too, and the ASIN is B00O6X5U7K