Posts Tagged ‘writers' notebooks’


Serendipity, or, Why There’s No Such Thing as a Waste of Research Time

February 21, 2013

Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 14.21.59

Today my main goal is to complete the marking of the Historical Bibliography essays submitted a week and a half ago, and I am rewarding myself (and keeping my focus) by breaking after every four essays and sorting through some of the extra research photos I took in Oxford a couple of years ago.

What do I mean by “extra” photos? Well, the purpose of the trip was to build up a swatch of handwriting samples from the de la Mare papers to compare with the writing in the annotations in the books at Senate House. I finished this with a couple of days to spare and instead of heading off into the summer sunshine like any normal person might, I took some photos of some of the pocket books in the archive. I didn’t need them for the handwriting sample, but I thought they might come in useful at some point later in my research.

Analysing de la Mare’s handwriting proved to be pretty dismal as far as dating is concerned. There’s a clear shift in the last couple of years of his life, and his teenage writing is very like his mother’s and becomes more distinct when he starts work at the oil company, but that leaves a span of around fifty years in which nothing changes so drastically that I would like to look at an annotation in one of his books and date it with any feeling of confidence beyond “not very old and not young either”.

So, in the end, the trip felt a little bit of a cul-de-sac. I proved a negative: that handwriting analysis was not going to be helpful to me. I learned a little bit more about that sort of analysis, and I got some good practice in the palaeography of de la Mare’s quite distinctive hand. Nothing more.

I assigned sorting through the “extra” photos to be my marking displacement and wake-up task. (It’s really important to refresh yourself regularly while marking, so that no student suffers impact from boredom with the process on the part of the marker).

Fast forward to this morning. And lo! Notes from one of the early notebooks about what he’s reading. The very thing I have on my seek and locate list for the summer, as described by Whistler:

At about this time too he began making exercise books on waste sheets of paper from the Oil Office. The first is in an alphabetical notebook for November 1892. (The Life of Walter de la Mare: Imagination of the Heart. Duckworth, 1993 (2003 imprint), p. 50)

I’ve not got images of them all, and I hope the years I don’t have are waiting for me in the boxes at the Bodleian, but it’s pretty exciting to find some of the very things I am seeking sitting on my own hard drive.

Thank goodness for the Bodley’s policy for researchers to take their own images. And thank goodness I didn’t go off in the sunshine once I’d finished my main research task. What was the focus then turned out to be not so important, while the marginal, the extra activity, could be really very useful indeed.


Image: flicking through images on my hard drive


Arran Jumper

January 30, 2011

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Some extracts from the pamphlet that I made at Nancy Campbell‘s workshop yesterday at the Poetry School. Read the rest of this entry ?


Blogging the Notebook / Noting the Blog

January 9, 2010

notebooksLast night before the start of our poetry workshop, we got onto the topic of notebooks and how we organise them.

This is something that has really interested me for a long time – notebooks and journals are traditionally the best documentary evidence we have for how people think.  Whether it’s the only surviving complete draft of an Austen novelBlake’s sketches and poems, or the discovery of Woolf’s “lost notebook”, the scribblings of our favourite writers fascinate us.

A notebook is seen as one of the writer’s basic tools, and most workshop leaders stress the importance of carrying one with us at all times so that whenever an idea or observation occurs we can instantly jot it down. Most of the writers I know have undertaken the tasks in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way which advocates writing “morning pages“, three pages of freewriting with which to start the day.

On top of this, we often have diaries stretching back to adolescence. The “teen angst poetry” they contain is even performed, in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek way across the globe.

The physicality of the journals themselves really matters to some people: I know one poet who writes only in cheap school exercise books, while moleskin is a common favourite amongst those in the glamorous, understated know (“Madness!” a close writer friend cried when he saw the price of the smallest size of moleskin in WH Smiths).

What interested me most in last night’s brief comparison of notetaking techniques was the point at which the computer becomes involved. That’s why in the photo at the top of this post you can see my home and work laptops as well  my diaries and notebooks.

One of my friends, poet Naomi Woddis, said that she rarely returns to her notebooks: once something’s on the computer, she drafts from that. Maybe it’s the librarian in me, but even when a poem starts on the laptop, I copy the final draft into my notebook. And maybe it’s the antilibrarian in me, but I don’t bother much about the intervening drafts.

It all got me thinking about the blog as notebook. This is an issue that Karen McCarthy is exploring, with the help of guest bloggers, in her Spread the Word project Open Notebooks and I don’t want to cover her ground. However, one of the research questions I’m asking myself as a historical bibliographer is