I always use black Papermate Flexigrip Ultra pens. They’re really comfortable to write with and very reliable. I never go anywhere without two (in case one runs out – heaven forbid!) in my pocket or bag.
Over the years, I’ve unconsciously developed a ‘Goldilocks’ system of notebooks. I always have a small, medium and large notebook on the go for each book I write. The large one is a basic A4 school exercise book, and I use it for planning the story. I like the size and often use a double page for mind maps and lists when I’m coming up with the big ideas for the storyline. The big ideas seem to need a big piece of paper! I love using school exercise books because they’re so cheap and yet are incredibly pleasing to use. Every time I start a new one, I still get that childhood thrill of ‘Ooh, a brand-new exercise book!’ And that’s a nice feeling to have when beginning a story.
My medium notebook is usually a hardback A5 Moleskine (alas, not cheap, but my family know these are what I always want for Christmas and birthday presents). I love the quality and feel of them, as well as the elastic band and the pocket at the back for stray notes on scraps of paper. An A5 notebook is the perfect size for keeping open beside my laptop while I’m writing, to sketch out my current chapter or jot down ideas for future chapters, or notes to myself about changes I need to make to previous chapters.
I never leave home without my small notebook. I use it for nature observations for my farm books and any ideas that occur to me when I’m out and about. I love the packs of two small Moleskine notebooks in complementary colours; they’re incredibly robust and slim enough to fit in the back pocket of my jeans. I have loads of these, and luckily Moleskine keep bringing them out in new colours!
I use index cards a lot. I write a scene summary on each card, and then I lay out all the cards on the floor and see how the scenes fit together. Once I’ve decided on an order, I stick them up on a cupboard door next to my desk, so I can refer to them as I go along and change them around if things need shifting in the story. Index cards make it really easy to add new scenes or take scenes away, too.
I also love highlighter pens. Since I write in so many different notebooks, highlighters are really useful when I go back through my notes, to highlight the bits I’ll need at that stage of the writing process. I use loads of sticky bookmarks, too, especially when I’m researching a historical novel, as I always have piles of research books around and the sticky bookmarks help me to find the relevant sections easily.
When I finish a draft, I immediately print it out and put it in a ring binder. This makes it feel more like a real book, and also when I’m editing I like to scribble all over the draft with ideas for the next version. Having it on paper in a ring binder makes it much easier to flick between chapters and get a sense of the whole book, too.
My first published book was The Secret Hen House Theatre, a 9+ novel inspired by my childhood on a farm and the theatre my friends and I set up in a tumbledown shed. It was shortlisted for several prizes, including the 2013 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. The sequel, The Farm Beneath the Water, was also based on real events, when my family’s farm was threatened with being flooded for a reservoir. The Jasmine Green books for younger readers, beautifully illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, are also set on a farm, and are about a girl who rescues animals in distress.
Evie’s Ghost is a timeslip story about a girl who goes to stay in an old house and suddenly finds herself in the same house 200 years ago, where she has to work as a maid while trying to warn the daughter of the house about the terrible fate that’s about to befall her. It won the 2018 East Sussex Children’s Book Award. I’m currently writing another historical novel, this time set in World War 2.
You can follow Helen Peters on Twitter: @farmgirlwriter