Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Which notebook to take away with me?

I shall be away for a couple of days, involving two train journeys of about 5 hours. Now, I love travelling by train, but five hours is about my limit for sitting in one seat to be honest (though trains beat aeroplanes by a country mile for travelling as far as I am concerned!). I’m actually quite looking forward to the journeys as it will give me a chance to sit and write. I am about a third of my way through writing the first draft of “book 5” (it will get a proper title some time!) and am in in that exciting “can’t get it out of my head fast enough” phase.
I always do book planning on paper and almost always in fountain pen. My writing is neater and there is that tactile aspect of nice pen on good paper which just adds to the enjoyment. The notebook I keep coming back to for book planning is the Clairefontaine Age Bag in A4 (reviewed here). That will of course be travelling with me, but it isn’t what I want to write scenes in (and I probably won’t want to type into my little tablet-computer for 5 hours either!). What I want, ideally, is a cheap/disposable but good notebook, A5 size or thereabouts, that lies flat and copes with fountain pen. Not much to ask for, is it?

Not being organised enough and also having a stash of notebooks that I really should get on and use, I didn’t buy anything new for the trip, but have rummaged through the “notebook emporium” as my DH describes it, to find something to use.

Of course, the notebook emporium has a zillion A5 notebooks in it, but I managed to discount several of them as they were either too expensive to use for what effectively will be scribbles (Midori Dainel, I mean you), or won’t lie flat enough (Clairefontaine A5+), or fit both of those exclusions! (Quo Vadis Habana; Ciak A5 notebook). The Oxford Activebook would fit all requirements but the page layout isn’t quite right for this kind of writing and I don’t need the holes for filing the pages afterwards (and it’s also a bit expensive for scribbling).

Which left me with: a spiral-bound “Europa A5 notemaker” (made by Tollit and Harvey Ltd, King’s Lynn, according to the label; no idea when or where I acquired this...), a spiral-bound notebook with cats on the front (I have a cat; I love stationery. People frequently combine these aspects of my life into one gift, regardless of the quality of the notebook) and a Clairefontaine A5 school book style notebook.

As ever, I needed to do a fountain pen test to see whether the paper would cope or whether I would be forced to scrawl with a biro or pencil. The Europa feathered and bled, but had quite “grabby” paper which made writing with a biro better (somewhat surprisingly!). The cat-notebook had smoother paper and less feathering. The Clairefontaine was Clairefontaine. If you don’t know what that implies, you’re reading the wrong blog. :-)

The results of the fountain pen test

The A5 Europa notemaker:
As mentioned, the paper was quite “grabby” but fountain pen generally feathered and bled like mad. I also tried a whole heap of other pens and to be honest, the best pen for this paper was a bic crystal biro. For shame. Not sure I could write with a bic crystal biro for 5 hours though.
The feathering was bad enough, but the bleed-through was almost acceptable for some of the pens, surprisingly. The calligraphy pen is just unfair for this test, but acts as a bit of a gold standard. The OHTO Tasche is a killer too and unsurprisingly, the paper didn’t hold up against these. Otherwise, the bleed-through was fairly acceptable. The cyclamen pink bled too much but is probably not one I would write screeds in anyway (not without giving myself a headache!).

Front cover: Europa notemaker
Fountain pen test - front
Fountain pen test - reverse

The cat-book:
I can’t remember who gave me this. I can see why it is still pristine in the emporium! Although smoother to write on, the bleed-through with pretty much anything other than biro is unbearable. Will I ever use this book up? Probably not!

Cat notebook - front cover
Fountain pen test - front
Fountain pen - reverse

Clairefontaine A5 school-book:
Cheap as chips really and lies flat despite being stapled, rather than sewn or spiral-bound. I’ve done the fountain pen test in the back as I don’t want to have to tear the page out and I’m getting fed up of opening notebooks and finding a fountain pen test on the first page! Fountain pen writes like a dream on this paper. Biro – the paper is a bit too slippy and (as you can see from the deteriorating handwriting), not to my taste. Bleed-through? A smidgen, but utterly acceptable.

Clairefontaine schoolbook - cover
Fountain pen test - front
Fountain pen test - reverse

The Clairefontaine will be the one I take. Now, who would have predicted that?? :-)


  1. I love Clairefontaine notebooks. The paper is lovely :)

  2. Just found your blog and enjoying it.

    Further to the Europa Notemaker. Earlier this month I picked one up and it was by Clairefontaine. Unsurprisingly, the paper is very good and entirely fountain pen friendly. I've no idea what the story is behind this, but their branding is clearly shown on the front of the one I have, so easy to spot if you're purchasing.

    Incidentally, being in the UK, for notebooks have you tried that old stalwart Silvine? They seem to be incredibly FP friendly, the only drawback being some show through (which doesn't bother me, I'll be honest). But cheaper than chips and made in Blighty. If they dressed up their exercise books with a "retro" or "vintage" blurb we'd be all over them like a rash!