In Praise of Pencils

Still on hideous deadline and finally taking a day off from the dayjob to write, I found it difficult to pick a topic today. There’s so much going on–an historical general election in the UK, RWA’s national conference change of location to Orlando, FL and why I’m the only person supremely uninterested in the culture of The Mouse, and an announcement.

Oh, okay. The announcement first. I’m taking part in an anthology of Austen-inspired short stories edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose with a bunch of Big Names. It will be published some time in 2011 and that’s about all I know. Exciting!

But now let’s talk about pencils. Yes, pencils. I am supremely grateful to pencils because they are about the only way I can plot, as much as I can plot anything. Pens don’t work, computers definitely don’t, but there’s something about a pencil and paper that just do it for me in terms of working things out, creating schedules or lists–it’s pencils all the way for me, baby. Maybe it has its origins in learning to read and write and draw. Does anyone else suffer from this pencil affliction?

So, pencils in the Regency. England had been a major producer of graphite since the sixteenth century, when the mineral was discovered in England in Borrowdale in the Lake District, and used first to mark sheep. The Borrowdale mine produced the purist graphite in Europe. But graphite was valuable for more than pencils: it was used to line molds to make cannon balls. Graphite was mined under great secrecy and sold under strict conditions in London. There’s a great article at The Regency Redingote, a site I only just discovered today.

At some point in the eighteenth century, the pencil was “invented”–that is, graphite secured between two pieces of wood (cedar), and produced as a cottage industry until the first pencil factory was founded in 1832.

If you’re in Keswick in the Lake District and it’s raining (which it usually is) you can drop into the Cumberland Pencil Museum to learn more and see the biggest pencil in the world.

Does anyone else experience the pencil-creativity phenomenon?
Do you have a favorite writing instrument?

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