The Writer’s Pen

This in not a blog post about writing, it’s about writing implements, specifically fountain pens. You can blame Karen Traviss, because she reminded me how much I used to enjoy writing with a fountain pen, and… well… one thing led to another and now I have a pot of seventeen fountain pens and a bank of fifteen bottles of different coloured inks.

Yeah, okay, they are not going to improve my prose, but I’m really enjoying writing with them.

I keep a bullet journal by my right elbow. It helps me to organise my life because it’s a to-do list, a day book and a things-done list all in one, plus a diary. If you want to know more about bullet journals take a look at Anne Lyle’s blog. All I can say is that it works for me. I’ve been keeping a bullet journal since 2015, and I’ve got my daughter hooked, too. We both keep slightly different styles of journal, but once you acquire the general principle, you can adapt to suit. She has a handbag sized notebook, I have a desktop sized tome. Something with at least 31 lines to a page works best because at the beginning of each month, you write a forward calendar for the coming month with reminders that you can transfer to your day by day journal. (At the beginning of the year you do a twelve month forward-plan, number your pages, and leave space to index the important things you might need to refer back to.) Your daily entries consist of bullet points of appointments, reminders, messages and things to do, either crossed out or with a forward arrow if you’ve not managed to do something but need to move it forward to another day.

All that is by way of saying that I do a fair amount of handwriting. One of the nice things about bullet journals is that they are a pleasure to use if you use a good quality notebook and – yes – a fountain pen.

So, back to Karen Traviss’ reminder and the fountain pen saga.

Karen was crooning over a new Jinhao pen, so it set me thinking, so I wandered out of the office and  rummaged through the top drawer of the desk in the living room – a desk I don’t use for actual work, so things can sometimes sit in the drawers for years. In this case for decades. Right in the back of the drawer I found the pens I knew were there, but had rarely looked at in later years: my late father’s Parker 51, and my own Parker 61. The former was the pen Dad treated himself to when he got his first management job in the 1950s. He lent it to me to do my Eleven Plus exam (yes, I am that old!) and when I passed the exam and got a place at the Barnsley Girls’ High School, he bought me my very own Parker Pen, the 61. In those days – before the availability of the kind of felt tips that are almost indistinguishable from fountain pens – ball points were forbidden in school. It was pencils for writing in our cheap ‘rough books’ and fountain pens for everything else. My Parker 61 has seen some mileage. I may have sat my Eleven Plus with the 51, but I took both O-Levels and A-Levels with the 61, and probably used it throughout college as well. (I have a weird memory gap about that.)

Parker Pens

If not the Rolls Royce of pens, Parkers were certainly the BMWs of their time. Sleek cigar-shaped bodies, hooded nibs and the elegant and distinctive arrow clip on the cap. They wouldn’t still work after decades of residing in a drawer, would they? Surely the ink reservoirs would have perished by now, or the ink so dried up in the nibs that I’d never get them writing again. I had a trusty bottle of Quink Ink (Parker’s standard blue) so with paper towels handy in case of leakage, I filled the 51, and lo… no leakage and it worked perfectly. The 61 has a different fill-system, a weird vac fill that no one seems to understand, but it worked, too. Both pens write like a dream. They glide over paper, smoothly and my sloppy handwriting is suddenly more considered… neater.

My dad died in 1987, but here I was, suddenly writing with his prized pen. It almost gave me the shivers.

As I said, one thing led to another, and my pen pot now contains pens by Pilot, Jinhao, Lamy, Platinum, and Kaweko. I have cartridges in a multitude of colours, and ink pots from Basic Quink and Watermans to Diamine Shimmertastic Enchanted Ocean. Yes, sparkly ink, but subtle, as opposed to my-little-unicorn glittery.

Maybe I’ll write more about some of my newer pen and ink acquisitions in future blogs, but if you’ve never tried using a fountain pen, I urge you give it a try. There are many good starter pens on the market for just a few pounds. It makes writing more of an experience and less of a chore.

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
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10 Responses to The Writer’s Pen

  1. Jazzlet says:

    I am still using the Parker pen I bought at some point for grammer school (another Eleven Plus passer here), although sadly not the original nib, despite it (and the pen) being stainless steel. You could drop those nibs vertically onto a concrete floor and they’d write as if out of the box, but they did eventually get blocked, nothing I tried could clean them out. I ended up with two of these pens, one italic as that was what Milham Ford Grammar School taught those of us it considered to have poor writing, the other fine nibbed as I found that faster to write. When I worked in Housing Benefits in the eithies I used one fied with red the other with green (for debits and credits respectively) to write up assements and changed the ink reservoir to black if I wanted to write anythng else. At some point in the nineties or noughties Parker stopped making replacement barrels and my italic nib became irretrievably blocked so I just have the fine nibbed pen. I should probably start looking at possible replacements beore that one dies.

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      You can still get Parkers repaired. I needed a new arrow clip on mine and got one from the Battersea Pen Home, http://www.penhome.co.uk/. They also sell refurbished Parkers, nibs and parts, though they would rather you sent your Parker to them to make sure you get the right part (sometimes the threading on the barrel is different between models of the same pen, or the cap is a slightly different shape). I sent my pen cap down and they replaced the clip. Not cheap, but I’m glad I did it.

  2. sjhigbee says:

    I used to have a platignum cartridge pen – but being a southpaw, it meant I had to write from top to bottom to ensure I didn’t smudge the lot. However I LOVE the sound of that sparkly ink… Thank you for an enjoyable article. I’ve reviewed Empire of Dust today by the way…

  3. Thanks for you fountain pen thoughts.I’ve been a fan since the 50’s, and used to write with my late grandfather’s pen. The nib was much narrower than I like. Mom said it could be mine, but after she passed, it seemed rude to start claiming things.

    It wasn’t until last year, when the family was removing valuables in preparation for home health care to come in for my Dad, that I asked for it. It doesn’t work anymore, and doesn’t have any sort of brand name on it.

    But the best thing that’s happened in the last few years is that fountain pens, in affordable price ranges, have made a resurgence of popularity. One of my favorites is Varsity disposables. They write smoothly, have a thicker nib and only cost a couple of dollars. It’s funny handing one to a person who asks for a pen. They have no idea how to write with them. I’ve quit lending them out, because an inexperienced writer usually ruins the nibm

    I’ve always seen the physical act of writing as an extension of making art. I also love to write with a soft lead pencil, watching the quality of the line change according to the pressure you put on the lead. The admin for a sketching group I belong to is a fan of fountain pens, and I’m thinking of buying some more, along with different color inks. Thanks to your article, Jacey, searching art web sites will be my great adventure tonight.

    • Jacey Bedford says:

      You’re right about people not knowing how to write with fountain pens any more. I am old enough (or my school was old fashioned enough) to start us off with a scratchy metal-nib dip pen and an inkwell. Long after most of the others in my class had graduated to what was then a cheap student fountain pen (Osmiroid or Platignum) I was still happily using the dip pen because it felt good. I’ve always liked a pen that resists the paper a little bit. I like to feel what I’m writing as well as see it. Maybe I’m not so keen on ‘scratchy’ these days, but a pen that’s too smooth doesn’t feel ‘real.’ I’m glad I’ve reminded you about fountain pens. My work here is done. Let me know what you find on the web. :-). I’m not sure my kids ever learned to use fountain pens. I can feel a Christmas present idea coming on. Ditto what you say about soft pencils. I’ve bought a set of B through 7B for sketching. They are wonderful. Hard pencils are an invention of the Devil.

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