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Apr-26-2012 20:40printcomments

Drawing a Blank: My Stationery Hell

How could I create when my favourite notebook was discontinued? One author shares her addiction in celebration of National Stationery Day

Tools of the trade … but is that paper the right thickness? Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
Tools of the trade … but is that paper the right thickness? Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

(LONDON The Guardian) - The first time I confronted my stationery addiction was 10 years ago, after a trip abroad. I had been away for six weeks and on my return I noticed the small shop at the top of my road had closed. Standing on the pavement, staring in dismay at the whitewashed window, I could have wept. I put both hands up against the glass and peered in.

"They went last week," the waiter watching in the doorway of the cafe said.

"But I've run out of notebooks," I told him, stricken.

"Try the post office, luv."

How was he to know I had used the very last page of my favourite book – series 3, 2006, notebook number 12 – on the flight back from Genoa? That the deliciously hand-bound, 'rough not' (cold-pressed, to you, the uninitiated) paper, with deckled edges and matching green covers, were only available here? The post office would not have any. So began my quest for notebook number 13.

I was in the middle of a new novel at the time, and, like a superstitious actor, I panicked. I needed to find another notebook. Fast. The task was immense, as any stationery addict knows. I had standards to maintain. Not for me those fat little, stiff white paper things. Or the terrible ruled numbers with spiral spines and horrid pearlised card covers. No, no, I couldn't be seen dead with one of those in my hand, for heaven's sake. Nor did I want the tasteful artist's books as suggested by some, their rationale being that just because I sketched, I would automatically want to use one. What's the matter with people? The last straw came was when some idiot suggested I use A4 books, a remark I naturally discounted instantly. Wasn't it obvious I had very specific requirements?

The paper had to be off-white.

It could not be too thick. Or too thin.

A point 4 G-Tec (sepia) had to look good on the page.

The book needed to be small, but not ridiculously so.

And there was the matter of the cover.

What d'you mean, you don't know about covers?

Clearly I was taxing everyone's patience; shopkeepers, family, my editor, the GP whom I bumped into in town. But luckily I happened to have another work trip lined up, to Genoa, and later on in the month, Paris. Right, surely I would find a stock of the right stuff on one of these trips? Think positive.

"Do!" said my family, yawning.

Alas it was not so and although I trawled every stationery joint in both cities, though I tested my pigeon Italian and French to their limits, I found nothing remotely of interest. I had, as it were, drawn a blank.

Returning home on Eurostar, watching the French countryside flashing past, I didn't know what to do. If only I had had the foresight to buy up all those lovely green books, I thought sadly. If only I had had more forward planning, not taken such things of beauty for granted. I could see them, now, reflected in the train window and in my mind's eye. Here I was, for the first time ever, sitting on a train more or less stationery-less. Neither recording my deathless prose nor the snatches of conversation going on around, nor drawing caricatures of fellow passengers. Gloom settled over me as we entered the tunnel. Twenty minutes of it. But then, just as we broke free on to rain-swept Britain, I had an idea. What if I bought a leather covered black notebook, the sort available everywhere. Those books were hardly going to run out, were they? Everyone since Bruce Chatwin has been buying them. I had discounted them in the past because all the artists and writers I knew owned one.

"You're a stationery snob," someone once said to me.

OK, so what if I ripped the covers off one of those little black numbers and made my own? I'm on to series 8, now. 2012, number 7. I may celebrate National Stationery Day today by starting work on the next one.

• Roma Tearne's new novel The Road To Urbino will be published by Little Brown this summer.

First published by The Guardian

Order Here

Order here

Order here

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Roma Tearne's Writing Collection

Mosquito (ISBN 0007233655) was published on March 5, 2007 by Harper Collins.
Bone China (ISBN 0007240732), was published in 2008 by the same publisher.
Brixton Beach (ISBN 9780007301560), was published 2009 by HarperPress.
The Swimmer (ISBN 9780007301591), published in 2010, was long-listed for the Orange Prize 2011.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.