Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Taking Note
I've just returned home from a lovely holiday in the sun in Los Gigantes,Tenerife. As I walked down the narrow streets, I felt that any minute I'd meet seven year old Mia and her parents, Lucy and Mark, walking towards me. It was the strangest feeling because, you see, they are fictional characters in my short story, 'Burning Our Sardine'. Our first visit to the town two years ago coincided with the annual carnival and the 'burying the sardine' ceremony. It inspired a story where I'd imagined what would happen if a little girl got lost in the crowds whilst watching the colourful procession. It got me thinking back to how I'd sat on my balcony with a bird's eye view of the spectacle making notes of the colours, the dancers, the crowds and the music. When I'd returned home, I'd used my notes to help me write the story. This time, I didn't use my notebook to make notes for a short story but visits to the small marina, carefully looking at the flowers and shrubs, together with our cliff top walks will give the setting in my newest novel authenticity I hope.
My collection of notebooks and journals.

I've been thinking about the importance of notebooks and journals as part of my writing journey. On every course or workshop I've attended, keeping a notebook has been recommended and I do try to take one with me wherever I go. It's surprising what you hear or see when people-watching! I've been looking back through my journals and I started using my first ever journal in September 2012 when I began a short story course at the university. Each week I would add notes of my own as well as annotating the hand-outs from the tutor. Although I tend to write straight onto the computer, there were some short extracts from stories I'd started in class or at a workshop. In another, two years later, it contained pages of notes I'd made while watching on-line seminars on crime writing and writing popular fiction. Reading through them again, I realised how useful these tips were. At this time, I was regularly meeting with a writer friend where we set ourselves a writing task to write freely for the first half hour or so of our time together. Reading back through these extracts, I realise that a number could be developed into something more. The journal also contains notes I made while watching real-life stories on the TV programme, 'Long-Lost Families'


This beautiful notebook, with its matching pen, was a present from our daughter, Jo, who happens to love stationary even more than I do. Its cover is magnetic so it remains shut but what I love about it is the secret wallet at the back where you can store letters, photographs, paper or cuttings. This journal starts with notes I made about soldiers writing home during the Great War and it gives an insight into what life was like for the young men at the front. It also contains notes I'd made during an excellent 'Write Foxy!' workshop with Miranda Dickinson, Julie Cohen , Rowan Coleman and Kate Harrison. As well as jottings made during meetings with writing buddies and at writing groups, this is the journal that contains detailed notes made on a visit to Abbey Cwm Hir Hall, the inspiration for Greystone Hall in my first novel. Although now it's a tourist attraction, its interior layout, the collection of the staff photographs and especially the kitchen utensils were all worth seeing.


This is the notebook I bought especially for the RNA Conference last July. It contains many happy memories with notes about workshops attended, contacts made and suggestions from the industry experts about my writing. Next are the notes I made at the Tenby Book Fair workshops, the workshop at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, the Choc Lit. library event and various meetings with writing buddies. It even contains a possible brief outline of a third novel when I was having a crisis of confidence about novel number two, mainly about the structure - again! Eight thousand words in and I was thinking of abandoning it. I talked things through with writing friends and returned to novel number two full of enthusiasm. 


This is the novel number two notebook. I'm using it most of the time now as you can see by its worn appearance. To be fair, the Woodland Trust notebook never did have a glossy cover. There is a journal/sketch book belonging to the main character, Elin, at the heart of the novel. She bequeaths it to her daughter, Lexi, who reads it after her mother's death and finds out about secrets that have remained hidden all her life. Elin's, like my journal from Jo, has a secret pocket at the back where she has hidden letters from her Greek lover.


In this notebook are notes about the Greek island where parts of the story are set, a map of the area, notes on each event of the story as well as notes on Greek food and customs. Along with character studies on coloured postcards and time line events on post-its, I'm well equipped to write my novel. I hope!

I may not use my notebooks for complete stories but I wouldn't be without them. Looking back through each one, I realise I have recorded a wealth of information and ideas. I'd love to hear how you use your notebooks:

  • Do you write a whole story or chapter in long-hand and treat your notebook as the first draft? For planning a story?
  • Do you use it for recording research, making notes at workshops and meetings?
  • Do you record observations when you're out and about?
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

10 comments:

  1. I absolutely adore notebooks too, Jan. I use them for making notes but, like you, I wouldn't write a complete novel in one. And also like you, I keep an individual one for each separate project. The one from your daughter is gorgeous - notebook envy!

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    1. Thanks, Sara. (I googled to see who 'unknown' was before you revealed yourself in another post!) I can't pass Paper Chase without having a look at the latest note books. :-)

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  2. Over the years I've experimented with a variety of notebooks. My favourite are Indian, silk-covered, unlined, handmade paper. They're on the pricey side (£12 - £15!) so I've only ever been able to afford a few. My best friend bought me one for my birthday last year & I filled it with notes for Book 3. (I'm working on the fourth draft of it as we speak....)
    As I hand-write in pencil, texture is important to me - shiny paper doesn't work well with lead. A5 is my prefered size & a few years ago I discovered a cheap (£1.50!) brand of artists' sketch pad - not very pretty but perfect paper. Unfortunately, they've downgraded the quality & the current one is disappointing. I shall have to resume my search in the local art shop!
    I'm an inveterate note taker & although I always have a small notebook in my handbag, if I'm out & about & something suggests itself I confess to regularly resorting to my Blackberry note option! If I'm attending a workshop I tend to go for a basic A4 pad - useful if the workshop includes writing exercises.
    My notebooks are for notes - random & rambling; scraps of scenes & dialogue - whatever comes. Longer passes too but rarely an entire chapter. I write this stuff in bed in the early morning.
    It's been a very long time since I've written a complete first draft by hand. Pre-electronics!
    Nice post, Jan - lovely topic. Notebooks are where we keep our word seeds!

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    1. I loved reading about your note-books, Carol, especially the silk covered, handmade paper ones. As you say, the texture is important for pencil. My character uses hers both as a diary and for water colour sketches - she's an artist. The texture of the paper would be important for her, too. What a brilliant way of describing our notebooks, 'where we keep our word seeds'. I like that! :-)

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  3. That 'unknown' comment was me, Jan - I wasn't logged in properly! (And I've still got notebook envy.)

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    1. Thanks for the 'reveal', Sara. ;-) Jo and I are never short of an idea for a present. She's a Geographer and keeps a journal for every visit. The last one I bought her was decorated in maps in pretty, pastel colours and I jknow it was well used. :-)

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  4. I do almost all my writing, even taking notes, on my laptop. Even so, I've somehow managed to gather quite a few notebooks and to have written stuff in most of them.

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    1. It's surprising how the notebooks mount up, Patsy. I love reading back through them. :-)

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  5. I use notebooks as well and I was about to say that they are just for notes, not for writing, but there have been times when the notes have expanded into actual writing. Love of notebooks seems to be something writers have in common. I am envious of Carol Lovekin's silk-covered notebooks!

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    1. They sound lovely, don't they? I agree about notebooks being a 'writer-thing', Sue. I bought one out on holiday for a writer friend who's leaving the area and she was thrilled with it. It wasn't too big and she said it would fit nicely into a handbag for her people watching. Thanks for popping by. :-)

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