Shaping words.

learning to write alphabet.

How often do you think about the various tools that you employ in writing?  There are so many that we take them for granted, and quite rightly.  When inspired, the words flow, and that’s the way we want it.

Remember when you were learning how to write?  You had to concentrate.  There was a correct way to hold a pencil, and to angle it on the paper.  Slight variations were possible, so some wrote with their left hand instead of right, and curved their wrist round their writing, as if shielding their words from sight.  Others gripped the pencil with three fingers and their thumb, rather than two.

Marking the page correctly, so that we didn’t press too hard and tear the paper, or so faintly that the graphite barely showed, came next.  Copying the letters, following the shapes, in the correct order, remembering where the pencil moved up, down or around, that was the big thing.

Tongues were trapped between teeth as we strove to copy the perfect symmetry of a printed alphabet.  I remember that such neatness seemed no more possible than that I would ever be able to mould a plasticine rabbit to match the one Miss Johnson pinched into shape for us.

Ancient Graffiti on the Face of Bishop Edmund Stafford by richard.heeks

Ancient graffiti on the face of Bishop Edmund Stafford.  Photo by R. Heeks.

I suppose I would have figured out my own way of copying the letters, if I’d had to.  So long as someone had taught me to read.  Making marks seems to be a part of our human nature.  But how much time I must have saved, having the logic given to me.


I don’t have a beautiful scrawl.  Over the years I’ve developed my own variations on the script Miss Johnson taught us.  I experimented, adding in fragments of copying from old books and my neater friends as I developed a fist all my own. Sometime after leaving school I stopped thinking that writing was about what the page looked like.

The beautiful notebooks that I’ve been given, or been unable to resist buying, are not filled with illuminated script, they’re not even tidy.  When my writing goes really well, I am not thinking about the pen or the paper, I’m following my muse, who seems always to be late, and in a hurry. Rather like the rabbit that Miss Johnson copied in plasticine from that nice Mr Carroll’s book, now I come to think on it.

Isn’t it amazing how stories are everywhere, once you start thinking about them?


A lesson from my nephew

Sam, who’s six, is an expert on Ninja turtles.  He’s seen all the animations, loves the comics, can name each character, give you their histories and play the stories out in Lego.

‘The sword of Tengu,’ he says, watching his father and I load the trailer with chainsaw, ropes, ladders and safety gear, ‘can cut through trees.’

I suggest that this must need good muscles.  Sam climbs off the gate, does an impressive spinning jump and as he lands has reached behind his shoulders with both hands and grabbed the two plastic swords that he has tucked down the back of his tee-shirt.  ‘Only Shredder can use the sword of Tengu,’ he says, ‘and he’s evil.’  He strikes a new pose with his twin swords and makes a series of lunges at the fence.

The other day, as I took a short cut, I glanced over the hedge, and there was Sam on his trampoline.  He bounced, did a forward roll, and as he recovered, reached back and pulled the twin swords out of his tee-shirt.  By the time he was upright, he was poised for action.

It was only then that I was struck by how dedicated a student Sam is.  Everything he sees and has to do is filtered by its reference to Ninja lore, and that’s been the way of things for at least a year now.

There was a time when I never left the house without putting a notebook and pen in my pocket, and since I often forgot to take them out again, this meant I generally carried several.  I made notes in queues, shops, fields and carparks, during intervals at the theatre and cinema or breathers on long walks.  But at some point, in an attempt to be more organised, my handy pocket-sized notepads got tidied away.  My Mslexia diary was designed to double as a notebook and I kept it in my bag, so it seemed efficient concentrate on that.

DSCF5518The thing is, I don’t take my diary everywhere in the same way.  Notebooks can be folded and crammed into pockets.  The best of mine are only one step on from being the back of an envelope, ideal for long walks, or tree-felling expeditions.

Inspiration belongs in a different sphere to the public spaces where I might need to check a date or jot down a reference or idea.  My notebooks are a licence to dream.  The efficiency they reflect is my commitment to writing.

‘Sam,’ I say, ‘Tell your Dad I’ll be back in a minute.  I’ve just remembered something else I need to bring.’