Archive for October, 2008

A notebook update

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

The sad news is that my favourite Italian notebooks (see my earlier blog about them) have been discontinued, so my dream of making a mercy dash to Milan to buy up the entire stock in the Nava store has been scuppered. But the good news is that I’ve found a very promising new stationery range in London! No attached pencils or elastic bands, alas, but they do have unusual and very fetching white line squares on a pale grey background, and I also like the ring binding. It’s a promising new start.

They’re called ‘Whitelines’ and this is what they look like –

I can’t successfully photograph the pages because the background of white against grey is too subtle to show up, but you can spot the front covers from this picture. Paperchase has them, and you can also get them on the internet. Fellow stationery addicts, take cautious comfort.



Memories and present realities

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

And now I want to talk about another one of the photos on the blog intro page. This one.

I took the photo on Waiheke Island in March when I was last back in New Zealand. I spent a lot of time on the island when I was growing up: every school holidays for years, at first with my mother and sisters, and later by myself, staying with one of my aunts. My grandparents owned a house at Ostend where my mother and her sisters lived until, I think, they enrolled at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School and so needed to stay in Ellerslie during term time. (In Mum’s day you couldn’t commute into Auckland city from Waiheke because the ferryboats took hours to cross, wallowing slowly through the waves. Now the ferries do the trip in a brisk and painless 45 minutes.) 

I have lovely memories of Waiheke. When my painter-grandfather was living there we visited him in his house, but I remember only an irascible old man painting in his studio at the back of the house who didn’t want to be disturbed, especially not by children. So Mum rented a tiny cottage across the field and we stayed there in the holidays, where my two sisters and I took turns to sleep in the coveted top bunks, swam every day, and played on the hill behind the cottage.

As I remember it, the old wooden house – the Garratt house, as it was always known in those days: my grandfather was Henry Garratt – was immaculately kept, with verandahs on both sides and views out across the water. The long path from the hilltop where it stood down to the road was surrounded with neat flowerbeds and trees.  So when I found it again this year, looking like this, I hardly recognised it. I spent 48 hours imagining I’d buy it and restore it to its former glory, but in the end I was glad the present owner likes it too much to sell it.  I just hope it doesn’t fall down before I see it again.



Addicted to notebooks

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

If I ever had to stand up in a meeting and confess an addiction, I know what I’d say.

“My name is Belinda and I am addicted to notebooks.”

I have a stationery problem, no doubt about it. But the truth is, I’d never want to ask for help in overcoming this. I have no wish to give up my addiction. I’m completely enthralled by it.

It began years ago, when I realised that American books smelled different from British ones. I imagine that’s because the printers’ ink – or perhaps the paper stock – has a distinctively different national smell, but I don’t know for sure what causes it. (I gave this idea to Josie in The Truth about Josie Green because I’d had it myself, at her age.)  And somehow, that initial interest in the smell of paper developed into caring about texture and style as well.

My addiction has, if anything, grown with the passing years. I still spend happy times browsing the notebook section of department stores and stationery departments around the world, but I’ve become more discriminating and I know exactly which brands of notebook will gratify my cravings.  (That said, I still make basic errors from time to time, and I can still be surprised or disappointed by a notebook’s suitability once I’ve begun using it.)

I know what I don’t like. I don’t like handbag notebooks to be too small; I want a page size that gives me room to think. And for any notebook at all I don’t like using conventionally-ruled lines: I prefer squares or gridlines. (I don’t usually want blank-paged notebooks either, but I can just about tolerate them for handbag use.)

The best handbag notebook I’ve ever found is this range:

But I’ve only got two of them left, and I can’t find them in London any more. They’re Italian, so I might have to make a special trip to Italy to stock up on them, and I know, I know, how much of a hardship would that be? You can see how cute they are: an elastic band to stop the pages from getting messed-up, and a pencil loop with a matching pencil supplied, so you don’t have to hunt around for something to write with.

I found an A5 notebook along the same lines when I was in New Zealand in March and I loved it for months: it became my ‘everything’ notebook on my travels. It was great because it had a Velcro-type closure and a flap at the back to tuck extra papers into, as well as a pencil loop. It’s all used up now, alas. This it it:


Notebooks for weekly ‘to do’ lists, and to jot down ideas and research notes for current writing or thoughts for new books, all have different requirements. Weekly lists have their own needs – a large page is the main one, and a margin of some kind is another. If I’m feeling especially obsessive I make entries in one colour and cross them off in another – you can see an example of that in the photo below. In the same photo, on the top of the pile, is my current writing notebook for the new book. Although it looks good it has been a sad disappointment. It has a thumb-guide to different sections according to the colour of the paper sections, which I thought was great until I started using it, when I discovered I didn’t want to organise my thoughts into coloured sections after all. I’ll go back to my usual kind after this: a grid system with a wide margin, and a ring binding so I can easily flip through the pages.


The best brand for most purposes is the French Clairefontaine range, which is gratifyingly wide. You can usually pick them up in the UK at specialist stationery shops, or browse the full range in France. If they only did one with an elastic band and a pencil, my life would be serene and well-organised once again…

Yeah, right.