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Interview with Tracey Mathias

I will write with just about anything that comes to hand: every bag I own has a kind of sedimentary layer of pens and pencils at the bottom. I don’t have a single beloved pen, though I do like the idea of owning a beautiful fountain pen, and one day I may get round to buying one – not only for the pleasure of owning and working with something lovely, but also because I hate the amount of plastic waste involved in chucking away dead biros and fineliners. I’d be miserable and very cross and not nice to live with if I lost it though…

In the meantime I use – of course – biros and fineliners. I flit from brand to brand as the mood takes me, but I always like to have lots of different colours for making notes and annotating texts. I’m not systematic about this; the different colours don’t mean anything; I just like the look of them on the page. At the moment I am deeply attached to a pack of Stabilo 0.4mm fineliners, except the yellow one, which annoys me by being too faint to read properly. I like Sharpies as well, for times when fineliners seem too subtle.

tracey mathias for papers pens poets blog (2)

I have drawers full of not yet used notebooks (this is totally normal, isn’t it?), which is partly because my life is full of lovely people who bring them as presents, and partly because I have a habit of falling for beautiful covers (especially in art galleries on holiday). The notebooks that I like to use tend to have certain things in common. I don’t like working in anything smaller than A5, and I’m happier with A4. I like blank pages: they feel freer, somehow: I like being able to write at different angles, in different sizes, in random places across the page, and actually I’ll often just ignore lines even if they’re there. I like floppy covers. I don’t stick to any particular brand, but I’ll sometimes splash out on Moleskine, and I like the Paperchase brown paper covered notebooks which are almost completely plain except for the decorative detail on the outside page edges.

As with pens, I have twinges of conscience over waste, and one thing I’ve recently bought is a beautiful Artbox A4 notebook; it’s made of recycled purple leather, and comes filled with creamy thick blank paper, but when that’s all used up you can re-stock it with scrap and feel virtuous! It is a totally satisfying thing. It has not, however, stopped other notebooks finding their way into my hands…

I love to work on big sheets of paper – the bigger the better – so I keep a stock of A1 flip chart pads, which I use for all aspects of planning, from sketching out big overarching structures, to teasing out knotty complicated timelines, to jotting down scene notes. I have a flip chart stand, and I sometimes use that, but more recently, I’ve been getting into the habit of having a sheet of A1 always spread out on my desk and of starting the day’s work by scribbling down thoughts (in different colours, obviously) for the next scenes and chapters I need to write. Then I plonk my laptop down on top of the paper and start drafting. Over the course of the day, the edges of the sheet get filled up with other notes, doodles, shopping lists, tea stains, etc.

A lifelong reader and day-dreamer, I have been writing seriously since 2005. My first three books are a fantasy trilogy – Assalay – for upper middle grade / lower YA readers: they were published in German between 2009 and 2011 by Erika Klopp Verlag, and I’m bringing out a self published edition in English. The first two volumes, A Fragment of Moonswood and The Singing War, are already available, and I’m currently editing volume 3, Weatherlord, as well as working on a new novel about love and politics for upper YA readers.

My website is at and I’m intermittently to be found on twitter @traceymathias.

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