Having published The Art Trip earlier this summer, I’m just getting into the draft of my next novel, another romantic comedy, so I’m spending a fair few hours in the spare room at the moment, scrawling away, pen on paper. Never enough hours, of course, but any I can find among the leftovers of everyday life! For company in there, I have the usual detritus of a spare room – a holdall never properly unpacked, the bottomless well of clothes for ironing or minor repair, a yoga ball the size of Jupiter covered in a fine layer of dust – as well as my writerly tools. Among these tools of the writing trade, one stands out easily. It’s both beautiful and functional, and in the most literal sense, it’s a great support to my writing! I just love my beautiful, battered old writing slope, so I decided it was about time I wrote a little piece in praise of it.
If you’re reading this as a fellow writer, I want to persuade you too – that writing slopes can be as useful and valuable today as they ever were. Whatever kind of writer you are – of books, poems, letters or even a diary – if you’ve never written on a writing slope, I strongly encourage you to try one, and I hope this post will convince you. Whether you write with pen on paper, or you write on your laptop, I think you’ll be seduced. They’re not hard to pick up, need not be expensive, and I think you’ll be thoroughly glad you sought one out. If you ever need a special gift idea for a writer friend or loved one, I might have solved your problem too. Beautiful and functional, meaningful and thoughtful, I can only imagine that they’d be thrilled. If you’re here as a reader, and you happen to have taken a look at my work, well, firstly thank you, and I hope this post gives you a little insight into where all those words and pages came from!
Now, it’d be easy to see a writing slope, or a writing box, as a relic. After all, their heyday lies more than a century back, in the days of letter-writing and constant correspondence, when a postcard told your loved one which train you’d be on, and memories were kept in journals not feeds. These days, they live on primarily in antiques shops and flea markets, where they sit closed like treasure chests, rarely explored, full of old air, memories, and the potential for hidden compartments. They’re collectibles, curiosities, lovely home accessories. At the time I bought mine, I think I saw them that way too.
My writing slope was an unexpected purchase on an unexpected occasion. One late May bank holiday weekend I’d been to the Hay Festival to hear talks by some truly inspiring authors and academics, and generally immerse myself in all things literary. I’d had a lovely time. I was there really as a reader and book-lover; I was only just growing into my skin as a writer. I was in a phase of trying out different things and I was gaining a little confidence. I’d sent in a few entries for writing competitions, had a couple of little successes, and I’d started to talk about my writing with people close to me.
On the way back from Wales, I happened to be driving towards the spectacular Malvern Hills. They were looking particularly dramatic and enticing that day, swathed in low cloud. I was already tempted to linger and take a closer look. Then, as I neared the foot of the hills and the Three Counties Showground I saw a sign for the Malvern Flea and Collectors Fair. Given the stunning setting and atmospheric day, having happy memories of the area and indeed the self-same flea fair from my childhood, I was persuaded. A little look around would be the perfect way to round off my long weekend. I flicked on the indicator and pulled my car into the field, adding it to the acres of multi-coloured rooves neatly lined up below the hills.
I should say now that I love antiques and collectibles, and I can browse them almost endlessly, so I won’t bore you now with my meanderings on vintage objects. I probably will another time though! Suffice to say, this flea fair is a fantastic event, the largest of its kind in the UK in fact, so it’s definitely worth a trip, and it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself browsing endlessly too. Anyway, as the low cloud rolled down from the hills and turned into a very gentle but very wet variety of rain, I was browsing the outdoor stalls. It was already afternoon, and given the weather, shoppers were thinning out, and a few stallholders were already packing up.
Attracted to one of the more sheltered stalls, my eyes settled on a pile of large wooden boxes, two of which had the telltale diagonal cut across their sides giving away the fact that they were writing slopes. I’d seen plenty before, on my travels around vintage stores and on television dramas, but I suppose it was the first time I’d seen them and considered them as a writer myself. I hadn’t thought of myself that way until then. I was drawn into taking a closer look, dismantling the stallholder’s careful display to reach the boxes lower in the pile. The first had glossy red-brown veneer and brass hinges which opened up to reveal a red leather slope. Very smart, simple but handsome, perhaps it had belonged to some moderately well-to-do man about town. It had areas of damage, but it wasn’t in bad order.
The second box was more intriguing to me. Dark wood, slightly bleached by sunlight, inlaid with a delicate floral border in opalescent shell, and inside waited a gorgeous deep purple velvet slope. It bore all the signs of having had a full life. The velvet slope was without the ribbons which would once have lifted it to reveal the drawers below. One inkwell was missing, ink stained the wood around it and the compartment where the other should have been. It seemed rather a marvel that one inkwell survived, along with the keys, if they were original, of course. Most serious of all, the base of the box was cracked. All in all, it was rather distressed, but to me it was well-worn and well-loved. It had seen a lot of writing, and my mind flew at once to who might have owned it and used it so heavily as to lose those ribbons and make those ink stains. I pictured a lady, comfortable but not well-off, a keen correspondent, and perhaps of rather gothic tastes!
The more I explored the boxes, lifting their slopes, pulling out little interior drawers, the less easy it became to part with them, close them up and walk away. Buoyed by my lovely literary weekend, slightly hurried by the weather closing in and the stallholder’s shuffling and warming of hands, I thought I might treat myself and buy one. They weren’t expensive, in the scheme of things. They hadn’t been top of the range when they were new, the internal wood significantly less costly than the external, and their price reflected their condition too. Each was about the cost of a pair of jeans, and I have plenty of those, as my spare room can attest! It’d be a little reward for my writing progress to date, slight as it was, and something remember this stage of my writing life – the transition from secretive scribbler to aspiring published author.
Yes, I would get one, and which one? Well, the sensible choice would have been the simple, handsome box with the red leather slope, but it was day for impulses. The more sentimental choice was the dark box, with its inlay, velvet and all its scars. I liked those signs of its earlier life. It seemed to breathe of stories. A lot of my things are less than perfect, come to think of it, I seem to be drawn to imperfections. In a strange way, a scar or two seems to mark something out as for me. As the rain came on harder, I handed over my money, tucked it inside my coat as best I could and hurried away. Even as I carried it over the soggy field towards my car, owning the writing slope felt like a kind of responsibility. It was my turn to add to its history, to fill it with more stories. It felt too, like a commitment to myself – that I would write and strive to become the writer I wanted to be.
Arriving home that evening and unpacking it, I don’t think I ever envisaged using my writing slope for the hard yards of writing novels. I still saw it as something of a curiosity, an accessory. I think I had romantic notions of using it principally when I wrote poetry! As far as I can remember, that’s what I did, at first, but trying it turned out to be a revelation, and I came to use it more and more. Now, I wouldn’t be without it. If you’ve read my earlier posts on my journey to writing a novel, you’ll know that I write a lot by hand. I find it helps my writing to flow. When I write with ink on paper, I hesitate less, I doubt less. Quite simply I write more, and that’s exactly what I want in the early stages of creating a novel. This is when my writing slope comes into its own.
At home, I write in my spare room, at a basic wooden desk, or at my dining table. I don’t have any special set-up, nothing particularly with ergonomics in mind. Now, writing may be mainly mental exertion, but there’s a physical side to it too. An evening when you’ve lost yourself in your work for several hours can bring a wonderful feeling of immersion and creation, but a rather less wonderful feeling in your back or shoulders afterwards! These days, when so many of us spend our working days at desks, postural problems and back pain are serious issues. If you’re a writer, that’s multiplied, because a lot of your spare time is desk time too.
A writing slope, of course, is designed for just this reason. It angles your work gently towards you, offering your paper up to your pen. I hadn’t appreciated how much that would help, but the difference is really noticeable. Those inveterate letter writers, generations back, all scribbling away at their slopes – they knew what they were about! There is far less writhing, stretching and crunching of joints required after a writing session with my slope than without it. Whether it’s only psychological, or whether being more comfortable helps in this, but I’m more productive when I write my with slope too. As I fill the page with words, moving line by line from the top of my slope to the bottom, I often feel a sense of momentum. I think of it as writing downhill. I write page upon page, building towards a full first draft and where do those pages go? In the compartment under the slope of course, squirelled away for safe keeping!
Those times, often late in the evening writing by lamplight, when I’m part way through the draft of a novel, fully in my flow, pen scratching away at paper, those are my favourite writing times. My writing slope is now the platform and the setting for those times, and I’m thoroughly grateful to it.
But wait, that’s not all! One day, when the happy days of drafting had given way to the trickier territory of editing, I set my laptop down on my writing slope. I’m not sure if it was out of laziness, not taking the time to close it up and clear my desk, or whether there was a twinge in my back, but I opened up my laptop on the slope and began to type away. That works too, and surprisingly well! The keyboard is angled towards me, the screen is raised up, helping my posture as I write. Slouching and hunching just don’t happen as much when I type this way. It turns out my writing slope does just as good a job as one of those specialist laptop risers, often ugly plastic contraptions, only my writing slope is multi-functional, and beautiful to boot!
So far, so perfectly practical, but I can’t deny that part of the appeal of my writing slope goes back to its history and beauty. Writing on it, especially with ink on paper, does lend a little extra sense of fun and occasion to proceedings. Opening it up is a signal of intent. As I sit down before it, I think to myself that I will write something worthwhile, something of quality, however much or little I manage, and I won’t stand and leave it until I have. I’m a little less prone to distraction when I write on my slope. The box seems to create a little boundary around my work, and has a certain charm that helps to keep me within its walls.
If I need the shortest of breaks, something to stare at or turn over in my hands as I consider a problem, the box has its own entertainments. Below the slope are little drawers and compartments, and secreted within some of these, drawers within drawers. I like to hunt these out, open them up and wonder what secrets they’ve held in the past. After several years of owning and working with my slope, it continues to reward me. Just the other day when I was taking these pictures, I came across a compartment I’d never found before. Who knows what else lies within?
I’m not sure I have any secrets of my own worth hiding away in these confidential recesses, but sometimes I give that thought to that too! At the moment, along with some pens and some postcards, my writing slope contains the first pages of my next draft novel and that’s something fairly precious I suppose, to me, at least. If I ever have any writing breakthroughs, I imagine the box as the repository of these; perhaps some kind reader reviews of my work to look back on and rally my spirits if writing starts to feel difficult. Or it might become a little treasure box again, like the musical jewellery box I had as a child, with a ballerina who twirled to tinkling chimes when the lid was opened, the place I kept my first little digital watch, my medals for dancing and other meaningful trinkets.
For now, I’m still just starting out on my writing career, so my drafts and postcards will have to do! I do feel rather that I owe my writing slope some thanks, though, a little treat of its own for all the help it’s given me so far. So, as a token of gratitude, at some point on a future visit to a flea market or vintage store, I mean to replace its missing inkwell, restoring a matching pair. It seems only right; and part of the promise I made to it, and to myself, when I first took it home on that rainy day.
The Art Trip
If you’ve enjoyed my writing and would like to check out The Art Trip, that’d be lovely! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and ebook, and included in Kindle Unlimited. I hope it raises some smiles and I’d love to hear what you think!