It’s International Women’s Day, a time to remind ourselves of the achievements of women down the ages – their determination, inventiveness and creative talent.
So we’ve decided to pay homage to some women novelists who have chosen to craft their work by putting pen to paper.
JK Rowling Stretched for cash, and living on benefits, Rowling wrote her first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in longhand, sitting in a corner of a local cafe in Edinburgh. (She’s said to favour black ink over blue, and she’s given HP the same birthday as her own, 31 July.) Rowling creates the structure for her novels by plotting them in a hand-drawn matrix, scribbling in major events on the chart.
See Rowling’s fantastic imagination in full flow in her handwritten and illustrated book of stories, The Beetle and the Bard, from the last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She created seven jewel-encrusted copies of the book, one of which sold for almost £2 million in 2007. Here she is at a book signing – try working out which pen she’s using.
Gillian Flynn Author of the hugely successful thriller Gone Girl, Flynn is partial to pens. It appears she’s fond of the Pilot Gel Retractable pen. While she writes on a laptop, it seems she does all her thinking in longhand: developing the storyline and fleshing out characters in handwritten notes. She likes the Pilot’s glide, she says and she’s given to drawing a cat over and over again to free herself of writers’ block.
Patricia Highsmith A writer with a gift for creating gripping, psychological novels, Highsmith had a favourite Parker fountain pen. An American expatriate who lived in France, she had a talent for an almost forensic delving into the darkest recesses of people’s lives. Her characters are con men and misfits, often struggling with an identity crisis. Most of us know Highsmith for her Ripley novels and their movie adaptations, but the recent critically acclaimed film, Carol is based on her novel, The Price of Salt.
Emma Thompson An award-winning actress, Thompson’s also an author of children’s books – she was commissioned to write the sequel to Beatrix Potter’s much-loved Peter Rabbit books. (Did you know her father wrote The Magic Roundabout series?) Thompson is also a scriptwriter, having written the screenplay for the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. According to the Telegraph, she’s a Luddite: ‘I write longhand with an old fountain pen’. Maybe it’s a Conway Stuart or a Swan?
And what better way to end, than looking at the way Jane Austen wrote? She chose a feather quill pen, but it was not always easy to use. ‘I must get a softer pen,’ Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1813. ‘This is harder. I am in agonies… I am going to write nothing but short sentences. There shall be two full stops in every line.’
Think how easy writers have it today.