A writer’s notebook

notebookMoleskine or bus ticket, Rymans or Redstone, plain paper or gridded, 26ers get under the skin of something close to our hearts – the notebook.

Notebook14Anne Aylor

I’m a Ryman’s girl. Habit started on May 1979. First line in writer’s notebook No 1: “If you are afraid of loneliness don’t marry” Anton Chekhov as quoted by Stephen Sondheim. The 14 notebooks are lined up in my cupboard as my portable ideas file and novel fodder. They are battered, soup stained, coffee stained, full of pictures and newspaper cuttings. They are beloved. I lost one when mugged in Balham many years ago. The bag it was in was dumped and I got it back. Huge sigh of relief. Last line of current notebook: “They passed a dead dog on the road and wondered what it all meant.”


Elena Bowes

I wish I was more like Martha Stewart when it comes to organising my notebooks. Every December 31st I make a mental note that this year I will buy a set of different coloured notebooks for different projects and label them accordingly. I’ll even use different coloured pens. But invariably when I need to jot something down I’m in a rush and grab whatever is nearest. So my notes for a book chapter or an interview are on the next page to the one reminding me to buy light bulbs and coffee and my niece’s birthday present.


Jane Chittenden

I’m a Moleskine addict – nothing else will do. I keep a tiny A6 in my bag and for everyday use I have A5s. They have to be black; they have to be unlined; and they have to be hardback. I’m such an anorak that I paste labels on the inside and designate them Vol 5 (or whatever) and the date when started.


Jo Boissevain

I write by keyboard not hand, but I keep a notebook diary – the Redstone (what else!). I like its recycled paper, its soft unshiny cover, its curved edges (see photo), its relaxed proportions, its workaday ring binder. The typeface is continental, verging on Russian, so I can’t believe it comes from W10 (7a St Lawrence Terrace). In it, there are fables, poems and quotations I never read, pictures I barely glance at and empty pages I never fill, so you might think it was wasted on me, but it isn’t. It’s a friendly presence on the dining table, each year the same but different, always modern and upbeat. My drawers fill up with Redstones and I hope they always will.


Stuart Delves

Oh God anything, I’m not fussy, small envelopes are my favourite, cheap books from grocers’ stores, backs of bus tickets. I’m seriously messy and about as style conscious as a pig in muck.


Lizzy Tinley

Notebooks is easy. I have a big Moleskine usually lying around beside/under the bed or lounging in the living room. It’s filled with notes from all my workshops, some diary entries, the beginnings of stories, and is stuffed with cuttings. I also have a mini Moleskine sandwiched somewhere in my rucksack. And then there is Evernote. Ah, how I love Evernote. I love it for lists, my heart’s desires, planning my blog posts, gathering inspiration, and accessing it on my phone, on the web or on my mac. It’s my favourite thing.


Richard Pelletier

I’m a Moleskin boy myself too. Black, lined, 13.21 cm. By the way, I strongly advocate daily journaling. Whenever I journal, clients and money follow.


Kirsten Irving

I get sent notebooks for every birthday but my current carry-about is a copper-coloured Paper Blanks number. It fits in even the titchiest bag and has a lovely magnetic fastening so the pages don’t get grubby.I’ve also included a picture of the notebook I received as a leaving gift over five years ago and have been too afraid to write in. It’s a beautiful Aspinal book with an awesome typo on the front. I keep telling myself I will defile it at some point. OK, here goes…


Andy York

I think you should always write in Moleskine notebooks. Your writing is worth the best.


IMG_0071Hester Thomas

Do you not know that many of us (particularly of the female variety) are not only obsessed with lipsticks, handbags and shoes but that we also have secret hordes of pencils, pens and yes, notebooks? Here’s my current favourite which I take for the V&A’s late medieval and early renaissance art course that I’m attending once a week. It’s a marathon day of note-taking hence I chose the sport related Olympic theme of the book’s cover. You may recognise this as a purchase from Paperchase.

The children’s author David Almond, writer of Skellig, spoke about notebooks on Desert Island Discs at the weekend. He’s recently discovered that Japan has the finest and most beautiful notebooks ever. His desert island luxury is a supply of them. I have just booked my flight.


orange_8(2)Jim Davies

My preference is for an orange A5 hardcover with (at least) 80gsm gridded paper. I write with a fountain pen at home and gel ink liners on the road, so I really hate anything where the ink bleeds through or spiders along the grain.

Quo Vadis Havanas are particularly durable and satisfying to write in, and I’m also partial to Rhodia Webnotebooks, which come in a great dot-gridded option. Leuchtturm1917 have brought out an orange range for the first time this season, and I’m road testing one at the moment. So far I’m impressed — I like the fact there’s a contents page, the pages are numbered, and there are stickers for the front and spine. As well as a handy pocket at the back, there’s a section of eight perforated pages you can tear out should the need arise.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Moleskine notebooks. The best thing about them is the slightly curious name. They seem poorly constructed, and the paper has a grainy quality that pulls the ink away from your writing. Besides, they are a bit too ubiquitous for my liking.

The boast that Moleskines are the “legendary notebook of Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin” is a little misleading too. Chatwin always stocked up before his travels at a stationers in Paris. They were made by a family-run business in Tours, which discontinued production when the owner died in the mid-1980s. In 1997, an Italian company called Modo & Modo decided to revive the design based on Chatwin’s description. So actually they are kind of homage rather than the real McCoy. Something they keep conveniently quiet about.


Keep sending pictures of your notebooks and notebook habits to newsletter@26.org.uk

  1. See last paragraph of my piece. They’re about as authentic as Phileas Fogg tortilla crisps.

  2. I know, I know. But the A6 soft cover Moleskine fits in every pocket, opens easily and stays open, has decent paper with lines the right distance apart, and stays in one piece. It’s a pleasure to use. I’ve tried Red and Black, Rymans, Sainsbury’s, but always come back to Moleskine.

    I do laugh though when every single person pulls one out in a meeting.

  3. Nice article.

    Notebooks are really just bellies full of thoughts.

    It’s not what they look like, it’s what you fill them with that counts.

    Saying that, I’s still go to see a show of graffitied navels.

  4. Sarah – Don’t get me started on Red & Black. Whenever someone whips one out at a meeting (usually on the client side), a small part of me dies inside…

  5. Ah ….. notebooks.
    If I were so much younger than I am today, I’d almost certainly think of notebooks as little slices of technology that presuppose I can type as quickly as a ‘Mad Men’ secretary, making notes on this and that.
    As it is, I still pick up small paper pads in stationers’ and think: “I’ll fill that with something – I don’t know what – that’ll capture someone’s imagination and make me ……….” You know the rest!
    Looking in my desk draw now, I find a I have six such engaging little pads (including one bought for me with love in Florence) and there’s not a word, not even a mark, in any of them!
    I wonder why?

  6. In one of the better known tag lines of recent times, keep calm dear.

    Moleskine themselves admit they’re not the original.

    We could all spend a happy few hours trawling through what brands still are and come up with very few. Complaining about it seems a worse sin than owning one to me.

    Support W H Smith and buy theirs? I hope you’re joking. Why help a company that’s done its best to strangle the nation’s reading choices?

    Red and Black? I know what you mean. Mind you, I feel similarly bleak when I see Smythson come out.

    Ink bleeding through? Fair point. Though it does depend a lot on the ink. The very cheap Portuguese schoolbooks I also buy when I can find them don’t do that – but the airfare offsets the saving.

    Yes, every meeting opens with an opening of Moleskines. But are we so special that having an ubiquitous notebook should pain us?
    Surely, what differentiates them are the contents?

    They should be black though. Red, green, yellow – it’s a sin against nature.

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