Thursday, 15 August 2019

Cambridge Imprint notebooks

Notebook samples from Cambridge Imprint
Recently, I was asked by Cambridge Imprint to review a couple of notebooks. I should hasten to say, these notebooks are not currently available to buy from them - they were prototypes which they wanted feedback on.

I have a number of Cambridge Imprint notebooks (yes, I know, I haven't reviewed any of them on here yet, but I will). I have a large square softback notebook and a set of three pocket-size notebooks. I really loved the look of their stuff, but wished they did a lined notebook that was bigger than the pocket size, but not as big as the square one. They do have medium-sized notebooks, but they were all plain, not lined. I contacted them about whether they had any plans to produce a lined one, and they sent me these two books to have a look at! They are the same size as the plain ones (18.5 cm x 12 cm; paper size: 18 cm x ~11 cm).

The two they sent me were covered with the Letterpress Harebell paper, and the Elephant paper. There's no plastic (hurrah!) and the papers are absolutely gorgeous!

Elephant paper

So, what do I like about them and what don't I like?

Loves:

Well, I love the covers - the papers are all amazing (have a browse of their site and see what glorious papers they have). They're hardback so will resist all but the most significant dings. There's a small label on the front to indicate the contents, which is a lovely touch.

Letterpress paper

The paper. I've only used fountain pen in them (and I took out a page to do the tests, as I don't like leaving them in). The paper is fairly toothy, so would work well with pencils too. Writing wasn't as smooth as in a Clairefontaine book, but was a nice experience. My sharp calligraphy nibs jagged a little, but they jag on everything except Clairefontaine! The stubs were great and regular nibs were fine. There was some good shading going on as dry time isn't super-fast (lefties may need to take a little bit of care). There was no feathering, bleed-through or show-through.

Front
Back

Size: Not so large that they would take up too much real-estate on a desk or in a bag, but big enough that you're not starting a new page every second. At a page size of ~180 mm x ~110 mm, they're fairly close to B6 (which is 176 mm x 125 mm).

Ruling/margins: They're pretty narrow ruled, which suits me (even with a chunky nib) but if your handwriting is large, you might struggle. Ruling is 6 mm, with a top margin of 15 mm and a bottom margin of 9 mm. 7 mm might appeal to a wider range of people? As I say, they're fine for me!

Things they don't have, but I don't care:

There's no contents page, page numbering, page markers or a pocket in the back cover. None of these things are deal-breakers for me. If I need page numbers, I'll add them in. If I want a contents page, I'll leave some blank pages at the start/end. I rarely use the back pockets - they can make the writing experience a bit lumpy.

Things I'm less keen on:

The first and last page are glued to the end-papers and there's quite an overlap. I'm never keen on glued spines, because they're hard to open the book out flat, and this is the case here too. I'd rather they would fall open properly - writing in the inner pages will involve a bit of brute-strength!

I hope that they'll make these part of their main range as they're just beautiful!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Life A5 notebook

As Stu says over on Nero's Notes:
Life notebooks are coveted by anybody who values quality paper. The Noble line of Life notebooks in particular are beautiful, featuring Life's superb fountain pen ink friendly Japanese paper, which is cream in colour and finely laid. As you would expect, the paper in the Life Noble notebook is acid-free and archival quality. This A5 sized notebook comes in plain, ruled and graph paper (5mm grid paper and 8mm ruling) and features the LIFE logo, embossed in gold. 
I've been using a ruled Life notebook for making notes on the gazillion things I need to think about/do/investigate ready to self-publish my fantasy trilogy later this year. I'd been umming a ah-ing over which notebook to use (something I suspect only stationery nerds like me do, because we have so many notebooks to choose from...), so let me share my reasoning for why I plumped for the Life notebook over the other million I have in my stash.
Well, first up, the paper is fountain pen friendly. I realise that many people won't care about that, but if you do care about that, you generally really do care about that. A paper that feathers or ghosts or lets the ink bleed through to the other side drives you insane. But, even if you don't give two hoots about this kind of thing, if a paper is good for fountain pens, it's generally amazing for any pen. Or pencil.
The paper is thick enough that there's minimal show-through and there is no feathering at all. Dry time is a little on the long side, so lefties may want to think about that, and you may want a sheet of blotting paper handy too.
My only niggle with the paper is that it's a yellowish cream and I prefer off-white or a light ivory, but that's just a personal preference.
There are 100 pages (sides) in the book. This is a happy medium between the slimmer notebooks available (68 or 72 etc.) and the chunkier 168+ page books. I'll have a lot of notes to make, and a slimmer book will probably be too small, but I hate waste and it would annoy me if I only used half of the pages in a larger notebook.
But one of the things I love the most about these notebooks is this:

The little dots at the top and bottom lines. These are perfect for if you want to add a table, because you don't have to faff about measuring it out. Fear not, the marks are small enough that if you're not needing to draw out a table, they won't distract. They're spaced at 10 mm (which a bit of my brain sometimes squeaks at because line spacing is 8 mm, so drawing vertical lines leads to rectangles, not squares).
Since I'll be making notes on a variety of sub-topics in the book, I'll be putting a table of contents at the front (and may even put an index at the back!), and there may be a number of topics where being able to quickly draw a table is a bonus, for example when I'm comparing different editors or cover-designers.
I also like the top margin with a slightly darker top line. The top margin is 15 mm and I use the space to put a few-word summary of the page contents (like 'print on demand' or 'keywords') so that when I flick through the book I can see what's on each page.
There are no fancy frills like ready-printed page numbers (I've just hand-written them in) or a ribbon-marker or a pocket in the back, but this is a good, solid notebook at a very decent price. Why don't you give it a whirl?
A modified version of this post first appeared on Nero's Notes.
*The post contains affiliate links, which help me to be able to run this blog, at no cost to you.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Guest post: Pens for New Writers – What to Look for in a Vintage Pen

I'm delighted to share this post with you from Simon Gray of Battersea Pen Home on the history of fountain pens and what to look for in a vintage pen. You can find out more about vintage fountain pens and fountain pen repairs at Battersea Pen Home.

Battersea Pen Home have specialised in servicing and repairing pens, ballpens and pencils since the mid 1990s. They were originally based in Battersea before moving to Epping in 2000.

They look after most makes of fountain pen including those now classed as 'obsolete' by their manufacturers. They were trained by Parker and Waterman back in 2002 as service technicians for their writing instruments and are also recommended by Sheaffer UK.

Pens for New Writers – What to Look for in a Vintage Pen

Many people buy vintage fountain pens because they find them inspirational. In a similar way that driving a classic car can force you to drive differently, using a fountain pen forces you to write differently. Writing with a pen is more challenging than using a word-processor; you can’t easily edit what you have written and so you have to find creative ways to make it work.

When buying a vintage pen, most people are initially drawn to how it looks; although how comfortable it feels in the hand and how smoothly it writes are what ultimately determine how much it will be used. Often the most important consideration is sentimental. Owning and using a pen that brings back memories of loved ones gives a sense of connection to things past and present that a biro or keyboard can never achieve.

Most vintage pens are susceptible for wear and tear, but don’t be put off. Most of the important components can be replaced and repaired, and once refurbished, pens can continue to work for many years with very little further intervention. Here are some tips for selecting the perfect vintage pen.

The term ‘vintage pens’ covers just about every instrument produced for the purpose of making marks on slate, skin, parchment or paper. One of the first pens capable of holding its own supply of ink was described by Nicholas Bion, a French instrument maker and author who lived in Paris around the turn of the 18th century. Little progress was made until the early 19th century when the number of patents connected with fountain pen design began to increase as new materials and production processes were developed.

By the late 19th century much progress had been made with the development of hard rubber which was cheap, resistant to chemicals ink and could be easily turned on a lathe into caps, barrels and nib sections – the main components of a pen. At this time, virtually all fountain pens were ‘eyedroppers’ where the ink was contained directly in the barrel rather than in an ink sac. Ink was transferred from the barrel through the feed and onto the paper by capillary attraction; hence ink only flowed when the nib touched paper.

The 1900s saw the development of the feed (the part below the nib) in an effort to regulate ink flow. Once this had improved, designers were freed up to focus more on the portability of pens with the 1910s bringing pen caps which screwed securely onto the main body of the pen rather than just being a push or slip-on fit. Screw-on caps meant it was safer to carry a pen in your pocket so the next stage was a multitude of clip designs to ensure the pen didn’t fall out of your pocket. Everyone today takes clips for granted, but in the 1920s a fountain pen clip was quite a new idea and frequently an optional extra at additional cost.

At the same time, progress has been made with improving the method of holding ink. Rather than the hard rubber barrel being the only reservoir, latex rubber ink sacs became available and reduced the possibility of leakage. Research and design then turned to filling methods with Conklin leading the field with its Crescent filler in 1901 and Parker developing a button filling system in 1914 which was still being used on their Duofold models as late as the 1950s. Sheaffer, Waterman and others focussed on lever fillers which again lasted through to the 1960s with several companies.

So, we are almost there with what most people would recognise as a fountain pen in terms of controlled ink delivery, a variety of filling systems and a basic design which was secure enough for the pen to be carried around in a jacket pocket. The final step was in materials development. Up until the 1920s, pens were made from metal (either solid or plated gold, silver etc) and vulcanised hard rubber which restricted the colour of pens largely to black, red or a combination known as a rippled finish.

All this changed from around 1924 with major developments in the manufacture of plastics principally in the USA and led by DuPont. No longer restricted to hard rubber, pen makers went into overdrive with pens appearing for the first time in colours such as lapis blue, jade green, pearl and black and many other combinations.

So, in terms of choosing a ‘vintage pen’ to write with, the mid 1920s is really the starting point as choice of colour, style, filling system, nibs begin to expand almost exponentially.

Many thanks to Simon Grey for the post.

You can find out more about vintage fountain pens and fountain pen repairs at Battersea Pen Home.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

HUGE pen test on pocket size notebooks!!

This post was born out of writing a post for Nero's Notes on whether my dislike of Moleskine and Field Notes was justified (spoiler alert... it is). They really don't play nicely with fountain pens, but then I wondered which pocket notebooks actually did.

Enter the biggest test I've done yet, with 10 notebooks getting tested. I used 5 fountain pens and I also tested 11 non-fountain pens too.
Warning! Post is very picture heavy!

The Notebooks:
Field Notes
Moleskine
Whitelines
Story Supply
Word.
Rhodia Webby
Clairefontaine 1951
Darkstar
Pebble Stationery
Telegraph

The Fountain Pens:


(top to bottom)
Parker Vector with calligraphy nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Shin kai
Tombow Object m nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Ku jaku
TWSBI Eco m nib. Ink = Diamine Burnt sienna
TWSBI Diamond 540, 1.1 mm stub nib. Ink = Sailor Yama dori
Conklin Durograph, 1.1 mmstub nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Shin kai
Platinum Preppy - UF nib. No idea what the ink was and anyway, it ran out...

The Other Pens:


(top to bottom)
Pilot V5 hi-tecpoint 0.5
Uniball vision needle micro
Scheider slider memo XB
Uniball signo RT 0.7
Uniball Jetsream 1.0
Stabilo worker medium 0.5
Zebra J roller RX 0.5
Zebra Z-grip medium (biro)
Uni jetstream 0.7 (biro)
Calepino bic biro
Field Notes bic biro

The results:
A lot of pictures... left side of the picture shows the pen test; right side of the picture shows the reverse of the page.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

My Every Day Carry (#EDC)

It's been a while since I shared my set-up with you, so I thought I'd give you all a quick look at what I'm using at the moment.

I need my EDC to have everything in it. There's no point me having a separate wallet and diary/notebook, because I'll forget one or other of them when I leave the house! But, I need to have something small enough that I don't wreck my back carrying it around! I'm somewhat in awe of people who merrily lug a well-stuffed A5 Filofax or planner around with them. Despite the fact I do always appear to have an enormous handbag, my EDC is pretty small.

For a long while, I'd been using my undyed extra wide pocket from Meadowgate Leather, which is slowly turning the most delicious caramel colour. But this week, I've changed out of that and into another Meadowgate Leather cover that I bought from a Facebook group.

Pocket TN from Meadowgate Leather
with extra width

Friday, 3 May 2019

B5 bonanza!


There aren't all that many places that sell B5 (at least, not in the UK) and those B5 notebooks that are reasonably easy to get (via eBay or Amazon) are often poor quality. These ones are okay, but just don't play nicely with fountain pen.

Well, despite the fact I'm deep into editing the fantasy trilogy I've been writing for a few years (hopefully published later this year... watch this space! Or watch my author website - I'm more likely to talk about it all there!), the next book is giving me the occasional poke. And so (naturally) I start thinking about new notebooks.

I've been through a variety of notebook sizes while writing (and even dabbled with a writing Filofax at one point, which didn't work out anything like as well as I hoped it would). But at the moment, I've settled on B5 as a good size for me. Partway between A5 and A4, it offers a decent amount of real-estate without taking up the entirety of my desk when lying open. I've also renovated an old Filofax Deskfax into a B5 traveller's notebook (to use as a writing TN).

This week was National Stationery Week and The Journal Shop did a site-wide 15% off. They sell quite a few B5 books, most of them Japanese and therefore amazing paper and so I treated myself to a small (ahem) selection.

The haul:
1x Life Kappan Note
2x Tsubame Notebooks
3x Penco Hightide Notebooks (purple, black, pink)


How do they compare and contrast?

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Current set-up: diary, to do/notes, and Travellers Notebook

I haven't blogged on here for a while (I've been busy writing and editing my novels, as well as writing for Nero's Notes), but I did tell you about my 2019 diary a while back, so I thought, since we're now in the second quarter of 2019, I should update you on how it's going.

I'm pretty much using the same system that I've used in the past, but with a couple of tweaks. I have my main diary/planner, which lives on my desk and never goes anywhere else, I have a running list of 'stuff to do/remember' and I have my Every Day Carry that is usually in my handbag as it's predominantly a wallet.

Main Diary:


This is still the Box Clever Press one I blogged about. This has honestly been one of the best diaries I have ever used! I'm even using the month at a glance pages (and we all know how terrible I am at knowing what they're for!).

So, why is it so good?

Saturday, 9 February 2019

News!

Logo of a black dog with a monocle and the name Nero's Notes

Those of you who've followed me for a while (bless you!) will know that as well having an addiction to stationery, I also write books (you can see the covers in the sidebar here!). Well... I'm now managing to combine both loves as Stuart Lennon has asked me to write for the blog on Nero's Notes.

I first 'met' Stu a couple of years ago. There are quotation marks, because in fact, Stu and I haven't ever met in real life (though I hope we will one day). We were both part of a #writingchat chat on Twitter (where various writers come together via Twitter on a Wednesday night from 8-9 pm UK time, to talk about a range of topics relating to writing) and the topic for the night was writing buddies. Neither Stu nor I had a writing buddy, nor were we in any writing groups. To cut a long story short, Stu and I swapped a small chunk of writing, gave feedback to each other and have ended up good buddies ever since!

Stu is now one of my beta readers - a very select group who read my books when I'm happy enough with them I can bear the thought of someone else seeing them, but with still some work to do on them. He also shares my love of good stationery. In fact, so much so that he bought a pocket notebook company! It was originally called Pocket Notebooks, but under Stu's guidance, has become Nero's Notes. You'll have seen a number of reviews of things from there, over the last wee while (and in case you missed them, I'll pop a list at the end).

Picture of pen, paper, envelopes and ink bottle, for letter writing
Stu is also one of the friends that I write to. Yes, I still write proper letters to people, on proper paper and put them in proper envelopes, add a stamp and post them. In fact, my very first blog post for Stu is on writing letters and it comes out on Wednesday. Please pop over to the blog and check it out? It should be up after 2 pm.

If you're reading this blog, the chances are that you share my love of good stationery, so go and have a rummage through the Nero's Notes site. There are notebooks, pens, pencils, accessories and some excellent subscription boxes to feed your habit. There's some amazing stuff on there, including some things you won't be able to get anywhere else in the UK. Hopefully see you all over there!

Reviews of Nero's Notes (originally Pocket Notebooks) things:
(Each link opens in a new window)
PapioPress A6 Notebooks
Darkstar Collection
Write pocket notebooks
Rhodia Rhodiarama
New Darkstar Collection
Stationery Box (subscription)
Word. notebooks
Inky Fingers Currently Inked (sadly no longer available)
6 for £6
Leuchtturm lined slim softcover
Poach My Lobster notebook

Friday, 14 December 2018

My day to day diary for 2019

In my last post, I said how I was staying in my Field Notes sized TN from Meadowgate Leather as my everyday carry. I only need a month to view calendar while out and about, but I need a larger diary to plan my days, so am finishing up using my standard sized TN diary (that I've used all year) until the end of December.

For 2019, I'm staying in the Field Notes sized TN and using the A5 Everyday Diary from Box Clever Press.

I can spend a ridiculous amount of time choosing a diary (often time I can't really spare, but hey ho). To work well for me, I need a diary that:
  • is about A5 size
  • has a week to a view with the days in vertical columns (so I can time-box)
  • has equal sized columns for Saturday and Sunday (my life isn't less busy, just because it's a weekend!)
  • has the week starting on a Monday (who in their right minds splits the weekend so that it bookends the week? It's a weekend)
  • has space to list tasks for the week
  • preferably also has space to list Most Important Tasks for each day
  • would help me with planning my week/month/year
  • preferably is pretty/attractive because I have neither the time nor talent to do it myself but like the look of them
  • will lie flat on the desk
  • preferably has 2 ribbon markers, but at least one
Not much to ask for, is it?? You can see why I can end up trawling shops and the internet for yonks, trying to find this mythical beast.

Well, this year I have struck gold!! I've got the 2019 A5 Everyday Diary from Box Clever Press.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Short-lived experiment!

Towards the start of October, I was wondering what to use as my diary set-up in 2019. It had been a choice between three TNs (standard, B6 and Field Notes size) or go back to a Filofax. You can see my thoughts about it all here.

I was itching to use my Field Notes size TN, but wasn't sure if I could make it work as wallet, planner and notebook.

Short answer... Nope. Well, not quite as I had thought I would.

I'd bought a fairly cheap diary to fit in it (the teNeues one... see here for the blog post on it), which had a vertical layout. It fitted in okay, though the TN ended up a bit of a chunky monkey with that, a wallet insert and a home-made credit card insert. The teNeues diary started in December, so I thought I would trial it, and see how it went (while I still also had my standard size, vertical layout, Midori TN diary to hand). I could have made it less chunky by removing the cover of the diary, but it wasn't really the chunkiness that made it not work, it was the fact the small diary wasn't big enough for me to plan my days and weeks in.