Envelopes, receipts, and notebooks. This week our Year of the Novel blogger, Caro, talks about the fragments of work that are done when you least expect it…

When I started my current writing project, I bought myself a notebook – a nice, brown book with thick pages that smell like cut grass. I also treated myself to a very nice pen (nerds, you know what I mean – comfy grip, thin line, inky-but-not-so-haemophilic-it-leaks-all-the-time), the kind of pen that’s fit to mark the nice, thick pages of my nice brown book.

I’ve got a computer, too.   I’ve never been the kind of person who dotes on machines, but I love my lappy (laptop) – I carry it everywhere in my handbag, with the persistence and creepy devotion of a Hollywood starlet and her undersized dog.

Then there’s my work computer (not quite as loved, but it does the trick), my house full of notebooks, the memo function in my phone – a host of ways to record ideas as they come to mind.

But words are funny. They’re wild and flighty and hard to tame. The best ones, it always seems to me, are suspiciously absent when my nice brown book is open and my nice inky pen is poised. Instead they show up when I’m doing 110kmh on the motorway, or during an important meeting or a class I’m teaching.  They creep into my bedroom at 3am or pop up when I’m baking scones and my hands are covered in flour. When I’m in the shower. Or when I’m out for a run.

The hard work gets done on the computer.  The plot mapping gets done in the book.  But the little gems – the phrases I can’t let go of and the dialogue it feels like the characters said themselves – are invariably born on the backs of receipts and envelopes. It’s messy and confusing, and I’ve lost a few to the washing machine. But there’s something poetic about a book’s creation on little scraps of paper – delicate word fragments, as mysterious and unfinished as the ideas they emerged from.

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