I’m not one for boasting – in fact, far from it – but I think it’s fair to say that I used to have beautiful handwriting. This was back in the days when, thanks to Miss Shillito and Miss Scrimgeour (two wonderfully old-fashioned school teachers), I learned to wield a fountain pen without staining my brown and beige uniform.
Then, after university, I became a journalist and it all went wrong. Part of my training involved learning to type. At first, this was akin to learning to walk. But somehow, after some hesitant starts, my fingers began to fly across the keys. What a revelation! Suddenly, I could write about a hundred words per minute. Why had I bothered with ink for all those years?
Of course, I continued writing the occasional letter by hand. But then, when I suddenly found myself faced with two hundred blank Christmas cards, something strange happened. After about twenty years as a journalist, I began to find that my fingers wouldn’t grip a proper pen properly. Had I developed some awful nerve condition?
My doctor was equally mystified so he sent me to the hospital for tests. ‘You’ve got a bad case of keyboard-itis,’ declared the consultant. ‘It’s what happens when you type all day.’
The problem was that I had no option. By then, I had become a novelist too. Two thousand words a morning was the norm. Besides, I needed to be able to go back over my chapters and correct with ease. How could I do that with a pen?
I was beginning to feel like a smoker who wished she’d never started. After all, some of my novelist friends still wrote by hand. Why had I got off the bandwagon too soon? I tried to reform – believe me. But every time I attempted to write a sentence with a fountain pen, my writing looked as though I’d been drinking as much as my teenagers.
Luckily for me, a moment of revelation was about to appear. One day, in a charity shop, I picked up a pen which was thicker than most of the ones I’d been playing around with. Suddenly, I could write my name in a way which was (just about) recognisable. So that was the secret! Excitedly, I made my way to a shop in town that specialises in proper pens. There, with the help of an equally excited assistant, I discovered that the wider and less slippery the pen, the better. It also helped if the nib was broad.
Almost overnight, I found myself able to write properly again. But even better, I began to feel proud of my writing. It was a bit like discovering how much nicer your nails could look when they’ve had a manicure. (Every fortnight, since you ask.)
My Christmas cards now look as though they’ve been written with care instead of loopy words which need a de-coder. I’ve even begun to write long letters instead of typing them. ‘I adore your hand-writing,’ wrote back a friend after I’d sent her a Get Well card. ‘Where did you get your lovely pen from?’
Pens in the plural, actually. I’m now becoming a bit of a collector. In fact, whenever I do a book signing, I make sure I take at least two with me. ‘How nice to see someone use real ink,’ said a reader the other day. I didn’t tell her that I was only just out of writing rehab.
Mind you, I’ve yet to convince my children who are still happily texting away. Sadly, that’s their form of ‘letter writing’. But I do know one thing. Dear Miss Shillito and Miss Scrimgeour have long passed away. But I’m pretty sure they’re looking down on me and nodding their approval.
- Janey Fraser
Having spent many years as a journalist, Janey moved to Devon and has written 4 novels about the ups and downs of modern family life, whilst overlooking the sea. You can find out more about Janey and her work here.
Janey's latest novel ‘After the Honeymoon’ (published by Arrow, Random House), is now available to buy in store and online.
One honeymoon destination. Three couples. Six secrets.
28 May 2014