What's your background?
My background is about as dull as it comes, I’m afraid! I’m solidly middle-class, grew up in Windsor, studied English at Oxford — but I was always super geeky, and in a digital way as soon as I could. I was the first person I knew to get a mobile phone, I grew up with computer games on an Amiga, and by the time I was at uni I had my first paid writing gig as a gadget reviewer. I took all my uni notes on a mobile device with a fold-out keyboard, or on a touchscreen with handwriting recognition. Who’d have thought I’d end up obsessed with analogue?!
How did your fountain pen addiction start?
It was a gradual thing, actually, and I’ve unpicked the ‘origin story’ on my blog in some detail.
It starts the familiar way. I’d always used fountain pens at school — the typical Parkers — then transitioned to gel pens and rollerballs as many do.
Around 2004ish, on a whim or perhaps prompted by a gift, I bought a few fountain pens and used those semi-regularly, then I started getting into EDC around 2008 and that got me seriously into machined metal pens paired with a battered Field Notes notebook — that then led to machined metal fountain pens, which I’m still very fond of today.
By around 2016 I caught the bug properly. I bought a Tactile Turn Gist, a Franklin-Christoph, a bottle of Emerald of Chivor… and much more besides. I started ukfountainpens.com in January 2017, and the rest is history! If I knew then where it would take me…
What's your day job?
If I tell you, I’d have to kill you. Only joking! I’m a marketing manager for a huge tech company. It’s about as digital as a job gets, and while I love my job, I need a bit of analogue in my life. It’s why I have a carefully curated vinyl collection, mechanical watches, and fountain pens. I used to keep a typewriter next to me, my guitars, Lego… anything physical and creative.
I spent many years as a professional copywriter, and while my job has evolved, I still do quite a bit of writing as part of my job — and I do as much of it as possible with pen and paper. I find it easier to structure my thoughts on paper instead of Microsoft Word.
What are your thoughts on eco-friendliness in pen manufacture/packaging/use etc
I’m as terrified and ashamed as anyone about what we as a species have done to our planet. Eco-friendliness is very much on my mind, and I try to act on it. My family lives in a modest house, we avoid driving, we’re vegetarian, and every time an Amazon parcel arrives I feel bad!
There’s a common view in the pen world that fountain pens are automatically green, because you’re not throwing away disposable ballpoints.
I think that’s nonsense, at least from the perspective of a fountain pen enthusiast.
It may be green to have a single Lamy 2000 with a litre of black ink that takes you a decade to get through, but if you have dozens of glass ink bottles and a rack of pretty pens, you are undeniably being wasteful in your consumption. Every one of those products impacts the environment in its production, packaging and shipping, and we should acknowledge that. Just because you’ve bought a pen in a recycled box doesn’t suddenly erase all that impact.
That said, I believe in progress over perfection. If we can use sea plastic to make pens, use FSC-certified wood in our paper, and use compact and recycled packaging instead of huge luxury boxes, then great.
But to me sustainability goes much further. We should buy from manufacturers that comply fully with safety and environmental guidelines, pay a living wage in their communities, respect intellectual property law, source raw materials sustainably, pay taxes, and behave as good corporate citizens.
How much time in a typical week would you say you devote to fountain pens and ink?
I have my pen collection in front of me on my desk all day at work, and I use my pens in my day job — but I won’t count that. I certainly will count the 30 minutes a day I spend journaling, just before bedtime, which is perhaps my favourite time of the day. And as a blogger and active member of the pen community I probably spend another few hours a week writing reviews, taking photos, answering reader emails, and drooling over new pens on Instagram.
Frankly, with a full-time job and two young children, I don’t have as much time for pens as I would like!
Do you think you'll ever sell all your pens and keep just one or two for daily use?
It’s an occasional secret fantasy, for sure! I even discussed it in a recent blog post. The trouble comes with deciding which one or two I would keep. A Lamy 2000 would be an obvious one to pick, but I’d also be tempted by a Montblanc 149, or my Namiki, or my new King of Pens… and suddenly I’m back with my carefully curated tray of 15 pens. I won’t beat myself up about that: I’m already known for ruthlessly culling my pen tray, to the point that on the Fountain Pens UK forum I have been turned into a verb: “to newmanise” means to sell off loads of pens!
Do you have an out and out favourite pen, or do you have a favourite for each occasion (ie, notes, long session writing, travelling with)
Next you’ll ask me to pick a favourite child! I have bought and sold about 300 pens over the years and I’m left with <20 that are all, in my humble opinion, fantastic. So it’s hard to pick a single pen that outdoes all the others.
I appreciate things about each of them, whether it’s comfort, craft, writing experience, engineering excellence, or materials.
But if I had to call out one pen that really does sing to me, and punch above its weight, it would be the Lamy 2000. Graceful shape, versatile comfort, wonderful gold nib, piston filler, machined clip, ink window, pull-off cap, robust materials… and affordable, produced almost unchanged since the 1960s. It really is a landmark that all pen designers should think long and hard about.
For travel, I’d also call out the Schon DSGN Pocket 6. This pen breathed new life into the pocket pen category that was previously dominated by the Kaweco Sport. With fun colours, great machining, and an almost TARDIS-like ability to cram a full-size pen and #6 nib into the size of a chapstick… it’s magic.
If you could design your own pen, what elements would you include?
You know, I’ve thought about this many times and I think I would utterly screw it up. I’d pull bits from many different kinds of pens and it would be an incoherent mess. I’ve even wondered what would be the average pen in my collection. But I can tell you my requirements, for sure.
I love an integral filling mechanism, whether it’s a piston or something like Conid’s bulkfiller. It would need an in-house nib, ideally something large like that on the Montblanc 149, wet and smooth. I’d want an ink window, and a cap that seals perfectly and comes off quickly. I’d go clipless. It would be a decent size, something like the Namiki Urushi 20. But as to materials, I think I’d be stuck. A glorious celluloid like Montegrappa or Omas? Sterling silver? Japanese urushi? I’m not sure I could pick! So I leave the pen design to the experts…!
Do you have other addictions besides fountain pens?
Oh boy, far too many. I am powered by coffee, in all its forms. I do drip with a Chemex and a V60, Aeropress when I’m travelling, and I make my own Greek/Turkish coffee in a copper stovetop.
I’m a vinyl addict too, although I try to keep the number under control. But I love the tactile feeling of putting a record on and dropping the needle, ideally with a tumbler of bourbon or a glass of wine!
If I won the lottery, what I’d end up blowing my money on more than anything would be wristwatches. They appeal to me in much the same way as fountain pens: as a way to express taste and personality, as a pinnacle of fine craft and engineering, and as a link to simpler, analogue times. The first thing I’d buy is a Jaeger leCoultre Reverso, but it wouldn’t be the last…
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
Only to say thanks for the interview, and to Cult Pens for carrying the torch of fine writing! There’s so much joy to be had in fountain pens, whether you appreciate the feeling of ink on paper or like the tradition and artistry of the pens themselves. Sharing that joy is a noble mission!
27 October 2021