Sunday, 3 December 2017

Spy pen

He switched off the radio, walked naked to the drawing room, snatched up the receiver, said "Yes?" and heard a ping, then nothing. He pressed his lips together as a warning to himself not to speak. He was praying. ... Then he heard it: three short taps of coin or a nail-file on the drum of the mouthpiece: Prague procedures. Casting round for something metal, he saw his fountain pen on the writing table and managed to seize it without relinquishing the phone. He tapped once in return: I am reading you. Two more taps, then three again. Stay where you are, said the message. I have information for you. With his pen he gave four taps to the mouthpiece and heard two in reply before the caller rang off.

John le Carre, A Perfect Spy, 1986.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Seamus Heaney's Scribes

...a black pearl kept gathering in them
like the old dry glut inside their quills

Seamus Heaney, Station Island, first published 1984

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The six sharpened pencils of Roald Dahl

"And I always use six pencils. And they always have to be sharpened before I start."

Roald Dahl on the rituals of writing

Roald Dahl sharpening pencils - BBC Archive 1982

Roald Dahl and his daily writing ritual - BBC Archive 1982

BBC Archive, 1982 "The peerless Roald Dahl discussed his work and loves, on Pebble Mill at One." 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Forbidden Pen of Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood writing Handmaid's Tale in Berlin, 1984.
Picture from Writers at Work

The pen is an instrument forbidden to the handmaids, themselves instruments of childbearing, in the dystopia of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, " I say."What?" he says.I haven't pronounced it properly. I don't know how. "I could spell it," I say. "Write it down."He hesitates at this novel idea. Possibly he doesn't remember I can. I've never held a pen or a pencil, in this room, not even to add up the scores. ... he says, "All right," and thrusts his roller-tip pen across the desk at me almost defiantly, as if taking a dare. I look around for something to write on and he hands me the score pad, a desk-top notepad with a little smile-button face printed at the top of the page. They still make those things.   I print the phrase carefully, copying it down from inside my head, from inside my closet. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Here, in this context, it's neither prayer nor command, but a sad graffiti, scrawled once, abandoned. The pen between my fingers is sensuous, alive almost, I can feel its power, the power of the words it contains. Pen Is Envy, Aunt Lydia would say, quoting another Centre motto, warning away from such objects. And they were right, it is envy. Just holding it is envy. I envy the Commander his pen. It's one more thing I would like to steal."
See also:
Margaret Atwood's Pencil on the Go