Sunday, 25 July 2010


A few years ago the Independent put out a call for lists and there were some nice examples from well-known people. So they decided to throw it open to anyone.This was my contribution.
Five things I cannot live without ;
my Polar library
twice-daily arthritis pills
tap water – yes, London vintage
Mum’s pre-war copy of Little Women
with a single colour plate
him indoors
This was my inspiration for my contribution to our Ten Year Anniversary Edition of ABBA this month.

1. Inspiration

Mine involves staring which is ok when you are on a deserted beach but can give rise to some tricky moments when you are staring at people in Costa cafe  (where I often work) and they start glaring back. Picasso said, "Inspiration is there but it has to find you working." So I write and I grumble and I do displacement stuff and then I find myself going into a stare and there I am - in the wonderful zone of inspiration.

2. Chocolate
I nearly  enlarged this picture and those of you who know me will understand why and probably everyone else as well. If inspiration starts with staring then it certainly can be fuelled by chocolate
Don't believe me?
Give it a go!

3. Paper
It has to be the right type. My husband has been perfecting the art of buying me the correct notebooks for over 30 years and trust me, he is the current world expert. Mainly because he can't think of anything else to buy me for birthday presents. I have notebooks to fill from Harrods, the Metropolitan museum of Art and Muji. I don't care if my notebooks are expensive, cheap, falling apart, hard cover, soft cover, BUT!  I hate rough paper with woodchip in it, I hate lined paper with huge gaps between the lines and I hate the squared paper that French schoolchildren seem to want to write on. I LOVE  yellow paper but absolutely no other colour except white of course and perhaps cream, but it has to be exactly the right shade of cream.
Difficult? Me? Never!

4. Somewhere to write
I wrote my first novel on the kitchen table while the kids were asleep. Later my husband divided our bedroom and built me a place for the computer my darling dad bought me. By then the kids were doing homework so they commandeered 'mum's space' regularly. Even later my husband built me a proper study on the end of the house. He calls it a shed, ( wooden walls mostly) but iits really quite integral to the house. I love it. But my favourite places to write? Coffee bars. I've been writing in coffee bars since I was sixteen and read about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre and the coffee culture of 1930s Paris. I never got over it. Here I am in Starbucks at Camden Lock.

5. A writing implement.
I was inkwell monitor in Tudor Road Junior school when I was in 4A. We wrote with nibs dipped in ink. We learnt Marion Richardson handwriting style and I won prizes. I've written with quills, charcoal, tailor's chalk, Stephenson's ink, calligraphy pens, gouache and HB pencils sharpened by my father with the bread knife. My favourite pens today are Muji thin fibre tip pens, navy blue colour. What do you write with?

That's my top five things I can't live without as a writer. What would you put on the list? Look forward to reading your comments, folks.
HIDDEN, Meadowside books, March 2011


karen ball said...

Ah, me! What a brilliant post. Ink well monitors and pencils sharpened with a bread knife. My five things:

1. Pilot V Ball liquid ink pens. If I could, I'd ban biros from the house.
2. Camomile tea (and, of course, chocolate).
3. An inspiring illustrated reference book.
4. A decent thesaurus or access to an online version.
5. Hand cream, lip salve, essential oils, chewing gum - all things to distract myself with.

adele said...

I too am a stationery freak! And will NEVER write with a biro. I love notebooks and have loads and loads of them even though I write straight on to the computer. Go figure!

And I used to write in cafes a lot when my elder daughter was at playgroup. Wrote most of my first few books in a cafe called Silvio's in Didsbury, Manchester. Nowadays I mostly write at home, staring at a beautiful Venetian notebook propped up on my desk to remind me of how beautiful stationery can be.

Katherine Roberts said...

Am tempted to put chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate... but close behind comes:
2. Money
3. Quiet/safe place to write
4. A good editor
5. Understanding friends
and, of course, chocolate...

Megan Burke said...

Great post. I loved seeing what you can't live without! Really makes me think. I too love the right kind of notebooks and paper - but only i know what that is!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Great to see what you would all choose. I agree with the reference book Karen, I can spend hours perusing those for no reason. Glad I'm not the only stationary freak, Adele. Chocoholics anonymous, that's us Katherine. And Megan has a secret in relation to paper. Coo!

Joan Lennon said...

1. My thesaurus
2. A clipboard
3. A 0.5 pilot liquid ink black pen
4. Permission to go to interesting places to do research
5. A beautiful view

(And chocolate. And coffee. And praise.)
(so much for 5!)

Mary Hoffman said...

Adèle, I understand the beautiful notebook habit and use my for note-making.

Sadly I have eschewed (rather than chewed) all chocolate and other delicious treats until I have lost some more weight, so my list is this:

1. Black coffee
2. A cat companion
3. Radio 4 (until 12 noon, when Radio 3
4. My laptop (currently a sore topic)
5. Enough light.

If I have all those I hope and trust that things like Miriam's inspiration will come.

Marie-Louise said...

Bummer. I logged on to distract myself from a sudden desire to bake (and eat) a chocolate cake...may as well just go turn on the oven, so.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Do we all have a stationery fetish? It must be something to do with being writers. I can only write in Moleskin notebooks, red ones for folk tale projects and black ones for original fiction. I can't abide wide-ruled pages or squared ones. I think we used to call them graph books when I was at school.

I write with a fountain pen, but only notes. My first attempts at writing go straight on to my airbook. When I use my laptop, my screen has to be blue - nowadays not the deep royal kind you get in word but the aquamarine in Bean. And the font has to be American Typewriter too, or it's not real writing.

My five essentials?

1 a Vector pen
2 cherries
3 music, usually an epic film ost
4 earplugs for when I don't want music
5 lots of water with lemon

catdownunder said...

Oh, stationery freaks! (Good stationery is wasted on left-pawed cats like myself...I am jealous.)

Miriam Halahmy said...

I just love the way this has started a whole exchange about stationary. Does anyone but a writer really understand that? Great lists everyone, this could go on forever!

Nick Cross said...

I favour blue Bic biros (other biros are too scratchy) and WH Smiths A6 hardback notebooks. Easy to carry and more importantly I can write whilst walking around. I tried to buy a Moleskin notebook once and it was so expensive that I nearly had a fit! They still work the same way as normal notebooks, right?

Miriam Halahmy said...

Yes, trust me they do. Muji notebooks are about 70p and I love them.

Stroppy Author said...

But you can get moleskin notebooks cheap(ish) on Amazon :-)

1. Coffee/gin and orange depending on time of day
2. Radio 4, or radio 3, or opera
3. Fountain pen for notes and mark-up
4. Nice notebooks for notes and scrap books and so on
5. Snacks - often nuts, sometimes chocolate

Miriam Halahmy said...

Well it seems to me that stimulants are high on the list. Now why doesn't that surprise me? Great lists everyone.

Linda Strachan said...

1- Coffee (sometimes with chocolate in it)
2 - Notebooks all kinds-I can't pass notebooks without buying them, have piles of empty ones waiting to start- Asda is great for a variety and often really cheap too.
3- Chocolate or nuts or fruit- depending on how well or badly it is going!
4-a laptop- one without internet access!
5-peace with no disruptions

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Saviour (apart from the things that I'm not going to list here as they overlap with so many of the above...) I absolutely MUST put cherries on my list too. Every summer I forget how much I like them and then rediscover them all over again like a surprise. Those intense ruby globes... wonderful!

Penny Dolan said...

BLUE ink? BLUE ink? How can anyone ever want to write with blue ink? I can only bear to use black ink. Blue is horrid - it feels far too much like an angry teacher or parent waiting to pounce & criticise.

But a lovely post & comments. Plus a list of pens & Muji notebooks to pursue sometime.

K.M.Lockwood said...

When I am rich I shall have:
1. The sound of the sea always ( I do mostly)
2. Notebooks from Pirongs made for me - I used an old school diary and it was the perfect shape, paper and size for me.
3. Calligraphy handwriting pens (they come in rather large boxes for schools)
4.A computer screen that isn't sat on top of an old bible so it's at a sensible height for me
5. A beautiful notice board to pin up all my good reviews and invitations. (It's good to dream!)

Julie Musil said...

Love this! I'd add a giant cup of drinking water and hard lifesavers.

Savita Kalhan said...

I know this is a very late addition, but I'm just back from Tuscany and I wanted to add my five.
1. Tea - lots of it from assam to earl grey, vanilla to cherry.
2. Notebooks ( again like many of you, I'm an avid collector and have returned with several new rather lovely notebooks!) They all get used randomly for notes, scenes, characters, anything and everything.
3. A view - the woods, a forest, trees, hills, mountains or the sea preferably. If the real thing isn't available, a picture will do.
4. A laptop (with no internet)
5. A comfortable chair.
Great post, Miriam