Monday, November 28, 2011

Day Twenty-five: Noodlers Ahab Flex with Noodlers Beaver

For day twenty-five, I chose my new Noodlers Ahab Flex pen which arrived the day before Thanksgiving and filled it with Noodlers Beaver ink. Before I discuss this pen, I have to give a special mention to Goulet Pens, who went above and beyond in shipping out this order. They released the new Ahab pens on the 21st, at noon, and I ordered two along with a few inks and some blotting paper, then added what I hope was a polite note that if it were possible, I hoped to get these before the end of November.

Considering Thanksgiving was just a few days away, I knew this might not happen. Well, the package arrived before noon on the 23rd. It took less than forty-eight hours to get from Virginia to Massachusetts - and, as near as I can calculate, at least forty-five of those hours were spent in the hands of the US Postal Service. In the middle of a new product release, they somehow noticed my note - or, if they didn't, the result is even more impressive - packed up my order, and got it out the door in less than three hours. It arrived in perfect shape, having been packed so well it could have shrugged off anything short of a nuclear fireball. Absolutely great work, Brian, Rachel, and crew! Thank you!

The new Ahab pen from Noodlers, fitted with an unusual type of flex nib, is a very interesting pen in several respects. First, the clip is designed to resemble the outline of a whale's back as seen from the air - the type of whales hunted by whalers in the days when ships like the Pequod spent years at sea accumulating their valuable cargo. The filling system is designed on the principle of the bailing pumps used on these ships.

This is a nice, big pen which holds a huge quantity of ink by modern standards. Despite my preference for fillers that don't require me to remove the barrel of the pen, I found this filling system fun to use. The nib was smooth and wet, and the pen wrote well. For the price, this is the single most amazing modern pen I've ever seen. I've read complaints that every one of these pens was not perfectly adjusted when it arrived.

That may be true, but they are designed to be easy to adjust, they include a sheet that explains how the pen works, and mine worked well right out of the box. All this for twenty dollars. Sure, if I'd had to pay two hundred dollars for the pen, and then found out I had to fiddle with it for a minute or two, I'd be annoyed. But, wait! I do have to fiddle with two and three and four and even five hundred dollar pens to get them to work perfectly.

The Ahab sells for twenty dollars. Considering the price, the incredible design, and the basic quality of this pen, users ought to be groveling in gratitude that they got such a bargain. From most manufacturers, this would be at least a two hundred dollar pen. I enjoyed using this pen, and I recommend every serious writer to go out and buy a handful of these, in whatever colours you like. They're absurdly inexpensive, they work well and if you get one that gives you a bit of trouble, they aren't difficult to fix, because they're designed to be easy to work on. For writing tools that are made today, this is the best value you're ever going to see.

When I look back on what I posted a few days ago, in my review of the TWSBI Diamond 530, I have to laugh. I'd heard of the Ahab, of course, but I had no idea what it was like. I hadn't even seen a picture. It has a large nib, and approximately the same "geometry" of nib to paper as the Merlin Perfect. It does not, quite, have the quality that the Perfect does. It doesn't actually come alive in your hand. But it comes closer than any other pen I've tried, and I am sure if I had the right skills, I could either modify the nib it comes with, or come up with a similar nib that I'd worked on, in order to give it that quality. Sadly, I am not a nibwright. But I'd love to see what someone who really knows nibs could do with one of these pens.

Noodlers Beaver is another very nice brown ink. It is slightly darker than Golden Brown, and has a more reddish hue, but it is a beautiful brown, and another ink that suggests an old-fashioned manuscript. The bottle came in the order with my Ahab, and already this ink is on my list of inks that I don't want to run out of. It is perfect for writing manuscripts, although, like many browns, it would only work for markup in very specific circumstances.

Battling a very nasty cold, I somehow managed to write 2,233 words in all, for a total so far of 51,659 words. In other words, I made my goal five days early, and everything else from here on in is gravy! If only I could have felt well enough to enjoy my success. Still, the story is going well and picking up a few new twists as it moves along. My alternate World War Two scenario is certainly a more difficult war, not just for poor George, but for everyone.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day Twenty-four: Thanksgiving and a Much Needed Break

Day twenty-four fell on Thanksgiving. I also woke with a terrible sinus infection. I had hoped to write at least enough to cross the finish line, since I couldn't quite 'win' with my Onoto, but it was late when I got home and I was tired and sick. I decided it was much better to rest than to make myself sicker just to finish a day earlier. I apologise to my readers, as that means I'll be trying out one less pen during this challenge, but I really felt it was best.

Day Twenty-three: Onoto the Pen 5601 with Noodlers Golden Brown

For day twenty-three, I finally chose the pen I'd originally considered opening the month with, my one and so far only Onoto, model 5601, black engraved with an amber ink window. This pen is newly restored by Richard Binder, who did an amazing job. Onoto happens to combine so many of my personal obsessions; if I ever decided to limit myself to just a few pen makers, the first two names on the list would be Merlin and Onoto. To fill it up, I selected Noodlers Golden Brown.

Onoto was such a fixture in British culture from Edwardian times through World War Two that they were known as "Onoto The Pen". They were made by Thomas De La Rue and Company, who also printed banknotes and postage stamps for Great Britain, the various British colonies, and many other countries for many years. And their pens in this era featured an innovative plunger filling system which is incredibly easy to use.

This particular model is a simple but attractive pen that was first made in the 1930s. My pen, which I bought for myself as a birthday present earlier this year, features the number "941" on the plunger knob. Since the Onoto offices were destroyed in the London Blitz, sadly little is known about their production, but I speculate that this may mean this pen was actually produced in 1941, during the height of the war.

It filled as simply and easily as the iconic ads found in old British magazines suggested it would, and it holds an ample supply of ink for a writing marathon, even with the stub nib fitted on this pen, which uses a fair amount of ink. A unique feature of Onoto pens is the ink shut off valve, which allows you to seal the ink into the barrel, then put it into your pocket without any chance of it leaking.

In my experience, this valve required a bit of fiddling with to get the ink flow adjusted exactly where I preferred it, but it is so well designed that this didn't present even a slight distraction. It actually makes the pen fun to write with, and allows the writer more control over their instrument. The nib would add character to anyone's handwriting, and is nice and wet and smooth.

If I lived in Britain during the period when Onotos were made, I might well have never even considered using any other pen. I certainly would own a whole battery of them. As it is, they are a bit more expensive than many vintage pens, and much harder to find in practice, so I will stop short of recommending that every writer get one. That said, if you are an Anglophile, share any of my various obsessions which render the Onoto such a talismanic pen for me, or otherwise have reason to think you might like one, I do highly recommend them.

If I absolutely had to trim my pens down to two, this Onoto and my Merlin Perfect are the two pens I'd elect to keep. That isn't to say I wouldn't miss many of my other pens, some of them badly. But even among highly useful, fun, and wonderful pens, this one stands out. And the ease with which it can be filled, combined with its excellent ink capacity, make it an ideal tool for a writer.

Noodlers Golden Brown is, as the name suggests, a nice, warm, golden brown. It is dark enough to read easily and is an excellent choice for writing a manuscript. I enjoy using it because it has a slightly archaic flavour to it, making the finished page look as though it were written many decades ago. It flows beautifully, and even though it is slightly on the dry side, it lubricates the nib nicely.

It isn't likely to be suitable for markup except in very special situations, even though there are plenty of inks that would be more than adequate for marking up a manuscript written in Golden Brown. It happens to be one of those rare inks that will permit other inks to stand out against its background more readily than it will stand out against most other backgrounds. But since most writers will usually stick to a certain set of inks for writing drafts in, and one or two others to use for marking them up, this isn't a serious problem.

On day twenty-three, I wrote 2,397 words, for a total so far of 49,426 words. Had it not been late, or had I not been struggling with a nasty cold, I would have pressed on until I reached my goal, but I am close enough now that only utter catastrophe could possibly keep me from reaching it well before the end of the month. I understand more of what is to come in my story, and I'm anxious to finish the first draft so I can begin editing it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day Twenty-two: Parker 51 with Greune Cactus Eel

Earlier, when I tried a Parker 51 Special, I noted that I wanted to try the better 51 as well. For day twenty-two, I chose a Parker 51 that my father bought when it was new. I don't know the exact year this pen was made, but I believe it is one of the earlier aerometric models. I decided to fill the pen with Noodlers Greune Cactus Eel ink.

It was a little more difficult to fill this pen, compared to the Special I tried earlier. This was due to a very small "window" in the metal guard surrounding the ink sac, in which you could squeeze the pressure bar. This was probably designed to limit the potential for accidentally squeezing the bar before screwing the section and the filler back into the barrel, but it was a surprisingly awkward arrangement. That is one of the reasons I suspect this is an early model.

This pen has a gold nib with an extra fine point. It did have a bit more tooth, but for an extra fine nib, it was a wonderfully smooth writer with excellent ink flow. Despite my trouble in filling it, it easily held enough ink to last throughout my writing session. The difference isn't huge, and the budget minded might be satisfied with a Special, but this pen did behave better than the other one. It amply confirmed my conclusion that every writer ought to have at least one or two Parker 51s on hand, for those times when you just need the writing to go smoothly.

I can understand how revolutionary they must have appeared when they were introduced, with the sharp contrast between these pens and the models that came before them. Today, however, the Parker 51 isn't an exciting pen. It is understated, and few would give it a second glance. But it is a reliable, low profile workhorse. In that respect, it is just as excellent a choice today as it was the day it was made. And the fact it is so reliable, so many years after it was made, speaks volumes.

The filler on this pen even specifies the dreaded "Superchrome" ink, and since my father had a bottle in his desk, I presume it drank at least some of that corrosive brew. Yet in spite of that, it is in fine shape, still fitted with the original ink sac and working without any problems whatsoever. For any object that is sixty or so years old, that is a testament to how well they made them.

The Noodlers Eel series inks are primarily meant for use in piston fillers, plunger fillers, and other pens with internal moving parts exposed to the ink. (Lever fillers, button fillers, and so on may have internal moving parts, but they are outside the ink sac. If ink gets on them, it is because the sac has failed.) However, it is fine for use in any pen, and in this case, it was one of the inks I had left to try, and it was convenient when I needed to fill my pen quickly.

It flows very well, and lubricates the nib nicely. It is a darker green, easy to read and perfectly suitable for a manuscript. It probably wouldn't work well for markup in most cases, although if you had written the original in a bright enough or light enough ink, it would do fine. I won't say that this is an ink every writer needs, but if you like green, it could be a nice one to have on hand.

On day twenty-two, I wrote 1,512 words for a total so far of 47,029 words. I had hoped for more, but this was a very busy day. In addition, I was interrupted by all the dragons of Pern, keening for their creator, Anne McCaffrey. After learning of the death of an author I had enjoyed reading and admired for years, I lacked the heart to continue. I'm still safely ahead of where I need to be, so this shouldn't pose a problem.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day Twenty-one: Hero 7002 with Dragons Napalm

For day twenty-one, I chose a Chinese Hero 7002, another inexpensive Chinese pen. I decided to fill it with Noodlers Dragons Napalm. This was not what I had planned to use, but I had a busier day than I expected, I was coming down with a cold, and I needed a simple choice so I could settle down to writing.

The Hero is an attractive pen, with a fine, hooded nib. The body is made of metal, so it has a nice, heavy feel in the hand. It has a piston operated converter, which was a bit weak. However, it did hold enough ink to last for the entire writing session. My greatest fear was simply that it would fall apart while I was trying to use it. Chinese pens seem to universally neglect the filling system in favour of the exterior.

On the other hand, the nib was nice and smooth and wet. This is the nicest nib I've found on any of the Chinese pens I've tried, and since several others had quite decent nibs, that is high praise. As the section is chromed metal, I was a bit afraid I might have some trouble gripping it, but it turned out to be fine. The pen is a nice writer, and although I wouldn't want to use it as my primary writing pen, it is a useful one to have around, considering how little it costs.

As the name suggests, Dragons Napalm is a very fiery, orange red. It is a reasonably wet ink, and flows well. This is such an intense ink it isn't likely to work well for all but the most unusual manuscripts (perhaps a thriller involving arson?), but this would make a great ink for markup. It stands out in almost any environment.

On day twenty-one, I wrote 1,575 words, for a total so far of 45,517 words. I'm nicely ahead of schedule, although getting sick complicates things somewhat, as does the approach of Thanksgiving. I'd like to find the time to catch up on these blog posts, but I'm still struggling just to stay in place. Nevertheless, I'm learning a great deal, and am glad that I decided to go through with this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day Twenty: Hero 001 with Noodlers #41 Brown

For day twenty, I chose an unusual pen, a Chinese Hero 001, which features the "360" nib. This is a nib that is supposed to be able to write through three hundred and sixty degrees, like a ballpoint. To fill it up, I chose Noodlers #41 Brown (although I'm using the original formulation, no longer available). This ink was developed to commemorate Scott Brown's victory in a historic Senatorial race in Massachusetts, to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant seat. Without commenting on my or anyone else's politics, Scott Brown lives just one town away, and attends the same church I do, so this ink was especially interesting to me.

The Hero 001 is another absurdly inexpensive pen. This one is lightweight, with a body made of anodised aluminum. It is attractive, in a very modern style. The squeeze filler was anemic, although it did hold enough ink to last for the entire session. I can't help noting that while almost every Chinese pen I've tried is otherwise surprisingly good, the filler mechanisms are uniformly shoddy.

The nib is interesting, although it doesn't quite live up to its promise. It is a "double sided" nib, with tipping material in a ball on the end of the nib, and several slits cut into the nib. I imagine it is meant to be an inexpensive answer to the Sailor Trident nib which is no longer made. It is not, however, a true all angle nib. The nib itself is flat, and while it writes well even when held vertically, if you rotate the nib outside one of the two planes of the nib, it will not write.

The nib is also somewhat scratchier than a regular fountain pen nib. It isn't unpleasant to use, and is a nice alternative for jotting quick notes, or for carrying as a loaner pen for people who aren't used to fountain pens. Although anyone who doesn't know enough to try writing with the nib lined up with the paper will have trouble, since the nib will not write at all on its side. This isn't one of my favourite pens, but it is nice to have one or two around.

And, as I noted, every writer could use at least one to jot notes, in situations where a more 'forgiving' nib might be an advantage. If an idea strikes you, say, while you're in a moving vehicle, this pen is a bit easier to scrawl a fast note with. If you carry one for that purpose, it can also serve as a backup pen in case the pen you meant to write with runs out of ink prematurely.

As an ink, #41 Brown is a nice, dark brown. It appears somewhat lighter coming out of this pen (as all fountain pen users know, an ink may look completely different when used in two different pens), but is a favourite of mine because in some pens, it comes out as the kind of dark brown you see in a cat's fur when they appear black except in direct sunlight, when you see that their fur is really a rich, dark brown. I am not sure if this is true of the reformulation, which from the reviews I've seen is a slightly different shade.

It flows well, and is a nice, wet ink that lubricates any nib nicely. In this nib, which tends to be a bit scratchier, it reduced that issue substantially. I find it an excellent choice for writing manuscripts, and you could easily mark up such a manuscript with almost anything other than another brown or a black. No matter what your politics, this is an ink every writer should have. (The name is an "in-joke" whose significance is obscure enough that you won't seem to be endorsing anything unless you choose to make a point of doing so.)

On day twenty, I wrote 2,472 words, bringing my total so far up to 43,942 words. I am well ahead of where I need to be, and although I'd like to get as far as I can on this novel during November (few novels are as short as 50,000 words, so once I 'finish', I'll still have more to write), I'm no longer very worried about failing to complete that goal. It would take a real catastrophe to prevent me from doing so now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day Nineteen: Esterbrook Dollar Pen with Midway Blue

For day nineteen, I chose a vintage Esterbrook Dollar Pen made in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Esterbrook made relatively inexpensive but very durable fountain pens for many years, but their main claim to fame was their "re-new point" nibs. All of the later Esterbrooks, including the dollar pen, featured a nib and feed unit that could be unscrewed and replaced with another. They offered many different types of nibs, so the user could select a nib that suited them. To fill this pen, I chose Noodlers Midway Blue, part of the V-Mail series of inks from Noodlers.

This particular Dollar Pen has a clip whose details reveal that it was made between 1941 and 1942, at about the time America was entering World War Two. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the nib is not original. It is a newer 2556 nib, a firm fine for "fine writing". A pen made in 1941 might have been fitted with the same type of nib, but it would have been of an older style. And a pen made once wartime material restrictions went into effect would have been sold with an 8000 series nib, made of palladium tipped with "osmiriridium" (presumably, an alloy that may have included osmium and iridium). Still, an ink with a wartime theme seemed appropriate to use in this pen. It is a lever filler, and it filled easily with enough ink to last for all but the last few lines of writing.

This particular 2556 nib is no longer anything like the usual Esterbrook nibs of this type. Although it still works, after a fashion, it is badly damaged. Although the tip is vertically in line with the rest of the nib, it is bent at roughly a thirty degree angle. This is how the pen was sold to me (by a seller who shall remain nameless) without any warning of the nib's condition. Nevertheless, I've delayed replacing the nib, simply because for all its annoyances, it has a few interesting characteristics.

After you fill the pen, or once you set it down for more than a few minutes, it is very hard to get ink flow started again, although once it is started, it flows as well as it might in an undamaged nib. This is no doubt due to the uneven gap in the slit that is inevitable given that the tip of both tines is bent in a single direction, yet the whole nib remains reasonably flat. The nib will not write at all in a normal position; in fact, once you get used to writing with this nib, when you first take up another pen, you are likely to hold it at the wrong angle.

However, once you learn to roll the pen to one side, so that you are essentially writing with the angled portion (instead of trying to write with the side of the tip of a single tine), it writes well enough, although with a somewhat scratchy feeling. The interesting point is that, without flexing, this nib somehow produces thicker and thinner strokes. I'm sure a nibmeister could explain the precise reason for this, but it is an interesting and attractive effect.

The pen as a whole was a pleasure to write with, and the fact that the nib will work at all even with such severe damage is impressive. The fact that once you grow used to working with it, it can be used for an extended period of time is even more impressive. For me, the real attraction of this pen is the fact that I know it existed during World War Two. It was probably used to write letters to one or more soldiers at the front, or perhaps by a soldier to write to "the homefront".

Since my story is set in an alternate World War Two, the association was an inspiration. Filling the pen with an ink based on those used at the time only heightened the sense of history. These pens still don't cost too much, and they would make a good working pen for any writer, but I especially urge any writer who has an interest in World War Two to consider one of these. There are other pens made during the war, but unlike some other models, the changes in clip design allow a Dollar Pen to be accurately dated. Of course, even if you get one made earlier, during the Depression, it was probably still in use during the war.

In addition to providing the opportunity to write in a hue similar to the inks used at the time, Midway Blue is a nice, attractive blue. I usually prefer blue-black or turquoise, and most ordinary blues seem very humdrum to me, but I actually like this colour. It flows well, dries quickly, and is a very well behaved ink to use. According to Noodlers, it is only partially waterproof, but you should be able to recover your work under almost any circumstances. This is a great ink to use for writing a manuscript. It would even work well for markup, as long as you used a black or very dark or bright ink for the original manuscript.

On day nineteen, I wrote 2,339 words, for a total so far of 41,470 words. The story is going well, and my chances of finishing 50,000 words before the end of the month look increasingly good. I do intend to continue working on this draft until it is done, and posting here, although perhaps not daily, depending on how often I get the chance. And I will also update this blog with occasional posts as I edit the first draft, and consider what will happen to the completed story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day Eighteen: Baoer 523 with Summer Tanager

For day eighteen, I chose an inexpensive Chinese Baoer 523 that I got from Stationery Art in Hong Kong. To fill it up, I selected Noodlers Summer Tanager. Although I don't expect the cheaper pens to equal my better pens, it is nice to have a selection of pens that I can use without much worry as well, and it is interesting to see just how well each of them does stack up.

The Baoer 523 is a nice looking pen with a semi-hooded nib, although it is a cartridge converter model, something I avoid whenever I can. The included converter is a very flimsy piston operated model that seems like it will disintegrate with even light use. It sucked in a tiny quantity of ink, although the ink lasted for as long as I was using the pen.

The nib was surprisingly nice and smooth. It is far from the best nib I own, but it is nicer than nibs on pens I've paid much more for. The problem I had with this pen was the section. It is very thin, made of painted metal, and extremely difficult to grip. The pen kept trying to roll in my fingers because the section provided so little traction. I have never had a similar problem with any other pen, so I was surprised and disappointed, but after just a few pages, I gave up and went back to using the Merlin Osmi that was still inked up from the day before.

For that reason, despite the fact the nib was so nice and the pen was otherwise convenient, I would not recommend this to a writer despite the very low price. It might be fine for casual use, when you'd only be jotting a few words or at most a line or two. But when you're trying to write pages as quickly as you can think, the last thing you need is a pen that keeps rolling over in your fingers, so the nib isn't properly positioned on the page until you shift the pen.

Summer Tanager is a nice, bright, pure orange. It is a bit light for writing out a full manuscript, but even in bad light, I was able to see it just well enough that I intended to press on with using it. I wouldn't normally recommend this for writing out a manuscript, although it is another obvious choice for markup. It flows well, although I did have one problem with this ink I haven't had with any other this month.

It actually bled through the paper in a few spots. Considering how well behaved other inks have been on this Rhodia paper, inks that I know will bleed through badly on lesser paper, the fact that it bled through even minimally on this paper does not bode well for using it on anything cheaper. Of course, if you're working with manuscript pages that are only printed on one side, you could mark them up with no worries at all, no matter how flimsy the paper.

On day eighteen, despite annoyances from the pen I was using throughout the first part of the day, I wrote 2,188 words, for a total so far of 39,131 words. I'm nearing my goal, with time to spare, and I'm starting to breathe a bit easier, especially as the story is coming well. I am struggling a bit, with the issues George must struggle with, but that is generating ideas and words and pushing the story forward. Some passages will have to be edited out, certainly, but that is always the case with a first draft, unless you write it at a glacial pace.

Day Seventeen: Merlin Osmi with Diamine Wild Strawberry

For day seventeen, I chose a rare Merlin Osmi that I bought from Allard Borst on the Fountain Pen Network. Merlin pens were made in Germany for the Dutch market. Although Allard lives in the Netherlands and collects pens, this is the only Merlin piston filler he has ever seen. Since it is made of plastic and not celluloid, it is probably a postwar pen, but as it has a cork piston, it was likely made no later than the 1950s. To fill it up, I selected Diamine Wild Strawberry.

The Merlin Osmi is an intriguing little pen. Although the model name suggests a connection with Osmia of Germany, I am not sure that is the case. After all, there is also Osmiroid of England, and osmium is an element that is employed in alloys used for fountain pen tipping, so it is not clear why this model was named as it was. The piston knob is set beneath a blind cap, a safety feature to prevent turning the piston thoughtlessly while using the pen and thus expelling ink.

The pen filled easily enough, and even though it is a small pen, held enough ink for a day's writing and more. This is one of the smaller pens I own, and I found it slightly difficult to use for that reason. On the other hand, the nib was smooth, with more than a trace of response and character. This pen isn't the equal of the Merlin Perfect I raved about, but it is more than enough to persuade me Merlin made excellent pens.

Despite feeling too small for my hand, I quickly grew to enjoy writing with this pen, and regretted the need to set it aside when the day ended. If it weren't for its rarity, I would urge any writer who likes smaller pens to hunt down one of these. It is an excellent writing tool, and pleasant to use even for someone who is usually more comfortable with a larger pen. The fact that I consider it among the most "fun" pens to use even though the size not ideal for me says something about just what a nice little pen this really is.

Diamine Wild Strawberry is a colour they introduced just this year, and I hope they continue to make it. It is a nice, wet ink that flows well and looks nice on the page. It is a somewhat darker red, but still a clear, pure red that does very much evoke a ripe strawberry. A damp palm after washing my hands did cause ink that had dried for an hour or so to run, so this isn't an ink to use if spills might be a problem, but I really enjoyed using it.

It is dark enough that it could be suitable for the right manuscript, assuming you like red, and yet red enough to be perfect for markup. I've actually just begun trying Diamine inks, but the Denim and the Wild Strawberry I tried this month are enough to persuade me the company makes inks worth using. In fact, I've already ordered a bottle of another Diamine colour, which just shipped today, so I hope to use that later in the month.

I had a lot of fun this day, with the pen and the ink that I chose, and together that helped me write 2,659 words, despite other distractions, for a total of 36,943 words so far. Although I dare not grow complacent, I am closing in on my goal with time to spare, and things are looking hopeful. Poor George is wrestling with all sorts of problems, which should make for an interesting story in the end.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day Sixteen: TWSBI Diamond 530 with Bad Blue Heron

For day sixteen, I chose another TWSBI, my slightly older Diamond 530 piston filler. The differences between this and the Diamond 540 are slight - but I decided that following the Merlin Perfect was an unfair test for any pen. Therefore, it seemed only fair to give another TWSBI a try. And, just to be perfectly sure that nothing else would spoil my experience with this pen, I chose an ink I already knew would work well, Noodlers Bad Blue Heron.

The principal difference between this and the Diamond 540 is the ink capacity. The Diamond 540 was designed to use different nibs, but as mine was one of the earliest made, it used the last of the nibs made for the Diamond 530. This pen, the Diamond 530, may hold somewhat less ink than the 540, but it will hold enough to get you through at least a few days of writing, even if the words are coming fast and furious.

It works, with no trouble at all, the nib is wet and smooth, and it feels great in the hand. It also looks great, and it is easy enough to see the ink level through the transparent orange barrel. For the price, this is one of the best bargains any writer will find for a good, everyday user. And this is a pen that will be with you for the rest of your life, even if you buy it fresh out of high school and live to be ninety.

In short, with a bit more perspective, I can see that I was too critical of my Diamond 540. I was using it the day after using the single most amazing pen I've ever personally tried, I was still dazzled by that pen, and no other pen would have looked good in comparison. In fact, in that context, anything less than a rabid, bitter rant tearing apart every possible aspect of the pen would have been high praise. And the TWSBI Diamond piston filler series deserves high praise.

I'll go further. If I ever do see the innovation I'd still love to encounter, if pens to equal those that have not been made for decades do ever come along again, TWSBI is one of only two companies I could imagine being responsible. (The other is Noodlers.) Every other existing pen manufacturer whose products I have tried either makes inexpensive but predictable pens, or hugely expensive, pretty pens that really aren't worth nearly what they cost, at least from the perspective of a writer who wants and needs a writing tool more than a "collector's item".

The TWSBI is innovative, inexpensive, and fun to use. If fountain pens have a future beyond fossilizing as pretty but useless decorations, it will be thanks to TWSBI and any other company that follows their example. If I had to recommend one single modern pen to every writer, the TWSBI would be it. And as much as I love vintage pens, if I had to suggest to a writer the one pen they should not be without, it would still be the TWSBI. Once you have a few of these in your toolbox, then go out and explore the world of more exotic pens, the pricey ones, the vintage ones, because you'll have your TWSBIs to fall back on.

As far as Bad Blue Heron is concerned, its a very pretty ink, a subdued but classy slate blue that has become one of my basic choices for writing a manuscript. It is wet, lubricates the nib against the paper beautifully, and if you spill something on the page, you'll still be able to read what you wrote. It is a great pairing for the TWSBI, a good, reliable, choice every writer should have on hand.

I did continue to struggle with pulling the thread of the story back on track, so I wrote only 1,742 words today, for a total so far of 34,284 words. The daily word count is above target, but not spectacularly so, but the overall total still looks good. And first drafts always have their problems; that's why every real writer is so reluctant to allow anyone to look too closely at a first draft. Every one of our stupid mistakes, our lapses in judgment, is there to see, since we haven't had a chance to polish them out yet.

Day Fifteen: Sheaffer Targa with Noodlers Burgundy

For day fifteen, I chose a Sheaffer Targa. This is the first "real" fountain pen I owned; in fact, the pen I used is exactly the same pen, bought in 1978. I haven't used it in years, since I moved away from cartridge / converter pens, but I thought it would be interesting to see how it stacks up against all the other pens I've tried since. I filled the squeeze converter with Noodlers Burgundy ink.

The squeeze filler worked without much fuss, pulling in enough ink to last for the entire writing session. Although the Targa's nib is not the smoothest I've ever felt, I was surprised at just how easy it was to use. Of course, I spent years gripping this pen, so a certain amount of familiarity, even after so many years, is probably to be expected. The brushed stainless steel is an attractive, practical finish.

The nib was nice and wet, with good ink flow. Although I would no longer be happy using this pen and no other for days on end, if I were stranded with nothing else to write with, I could go on writing for as long as my supply of ink held out without any real problems. This is a good, basic pen for any writer. There are many different versions out there, to suit a wide range of tastes. If you don't want to use bottled ink, it takes standard Sheaffer cartridges, although disappointment with Skrip inks was another reason I set this pen aside for so long.

Noodlers Burgundy is a nice, attractive colour, and it is a fairly wet ink with good flow that lubricates the nib nicely. It certainly behaves much better in this pen than I remember Skrip doing. For some reason, I found this one of the least suitable colours for writing a manuscript in. That is probably a matter of personal taste, since it is dark enough to read with no trouble. Whatever the reason, although I like it, at least at the moment, I can't think of a single story that would prompt me to choose this as the "right" ink.

As far as using it for markup, I'd want to be sure the ink I was contrasting it with was just right. It is dark enough it wouldn't jump right out against many purples, dark reds, or even black. And yet it is just bright enough to blend in with many brighter reds. It might work well in marking up a manuscript written in blue, or some other colour that would make it stand out.

As I continued to struggle to bring the story back on track, I wrote 1,513 words, for a total so far this month of 32,542 words. Although this is less than my target, my overall average is still better than two thousand words a day, so I'm not in serious trouble yet. I will have my work cut out for me when I begin the typing in process, since I'll have to stitch together the various passages and versions of events, without leaving any loose ends dangling.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day Fourteen: Noodlers Pistonfiller with Noodlers Black

For day fourteen, I chose the inexpensive Noodlers piston filler and thought it would be appropriate to pair this with ordinary, "plain vanilla" Noodlers Black. The Noodlers piston filler resin pen is an effort by Nathan Tardiff of Noodlers Ink to provide a decent fountain pen at affordable prices.

Although they are not made with luxury materials, the original, basic Noodlers pen is very impressive in the way it succeeds in what it sets out to do. The piston filler works, simply and without any trouble, and pulled in enough ink to last for a day of writing. There is an ink window composed of thin, clear strips set in the barrel. Although this makes it slightly more difficult to view the ink level, it is still very convenient - and there is a clear version available.

The nib is smooth and writes well, and without trouble, right out of the box. Yes, it is a very ordinary nib, available in one size only, somewhere between fine and medium, but for the price, it is impressive to get such a functional writing implement. True, this pen wouldn't have stood out as much even a few decades ago, when at least a few decent, inexpensive pens were still made. But today? Noodlers shows just how it can still be done.

As you'd expect, these are made of lighter plastic than, say, the TWSBI which costs three times as much, but they are still sturdy enough for regular use. I don't expect too many of these to be around in fifty years, simply because it looks like an inexpensive pen and so they're more likely to get tossed out over time, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were examples still going strong even after that long.

At the price, every writer ought to have at least a handful of these around, to fill up and stick in your pocket or backpack or briefcase and use anywhere. I'd hate to lose any of my pens, but at least when you know you can replace it without spending too much, you don't have to worry overmuch about dropping or losing it. They're also good as "loaners"; if you absolutely can't get out of letting someone use one of your pens, at least if they walk off with - or manage to break - one of these, you've only lost a few dollars. And yet, they work well enough that I'd track one down if I could, because I'd hate to lose it.

Noodlers Black is a nice, basic black that you can use for just about anything. It won't feather on all but the cheapest pulpy papers, and even then it feathers less than many inks, and it works. It isn't an exciting ink - I prefer Heart of Darkness, which is even darker and has great lubrication - but it is a good useful one. And although it doesn't have quite the flow or lubrication of Heart of Darkness, you'd never guess that if you used most other inks. By ordinary standards, it has well above average flow and lubrication.

On day fourteen, I was able to write 1,507 words, for a total of 31,029 to date. This is slightly below my ideal target, and was due to the fact that the story had veered off course slightly (something that is normal in a first draft), and I had to struggle to try to correct it. I'll want to pick up speed again as soon as I can, but I'm still ahead of the curve, so it isn't a disaster.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day Thirteen: Parker 51 Special with Purple Martin

For day thirteen, I chose a Parker 51 Special. The Parker 51 is legendary, and I deliberately chose a "Special", as this is a somewhat less expensive version of the 51. I was interested to see how the more affordable variant would hold up, although I will probably try a "real" 51 later. To fill it, I chose Noodlers Purple Martin.

Despite the fact it was a 'lesser' version, this particular Parker really lived up to its reputation quite well. It filled easily enough; I'm not a particular fan of the aerometric filling system, since unscrewing the section just to fill the pen seems like an unnecessary interruption to me, but at least the system worked, and the pen held enough ink to last me for the entire time I was writing.

The octanium nib - a fancy name for some sort of steel alloy - was smoother than some gold nibs I've used, and it was easy and painless to write with it. This is a pen that is ideally designed to get the job of writing done, right and with little fuss. And for those who hate to get their fingers inky, the hooded nib substantially reduces the possibility that you'll get ink on your fingers while you're gripping the pen. It also makes the tip much easier to clean off after you've inked up the pen. All in all, this is a pen that every writer needs to have at least one of.

The nib does not dry out easily, so the pen begins writing at once, even if you've left it sitting for a while. The greatest compliment I can think of to give this pen is this: It just works. It isn't fussy, it doesn't require a lot of coddling, it works whenever you need it to, for as long as your supply of ink lasts. I had never tried a vintage 51 until earlier this year, and they are already among the pens I consider essential.

Purple Martin is a nice, dark purple, easy to see on the page. Any of the usual bright colours would contrast well with it when editing a manuscript. It is a nice, wet ink, flows well, and lubricates the nib beautifully. It is a perfectly nice ink, but having used it after I'd already tried Purple Heart, it failed to get me excited. My own taste runs more to the rich, slightly reddish purple hue of Purple Heart, but if you like purple inks, Purple Martin is certainly worth a try. I'm sure there are some who would prefer it.

On day thirteen, I was able to write 2,717 words, for a total so far of 29,522 words. At not quite halfway through the month, I made it more than halfway to my goal. That is encouraging, but the race isn't over until you've crossed the finish line. I vividly recall a video of a race in which one woman was in the lead - until she fell within inches of the finish line. The woman behind her raced right past, and won the race. So I won't be counting any chickens yet, not as long as the eggs remain unhatched.

Day Twelve: Reform 1745 with Pelikan Brilliant Brown

For day twelve, I chose a German "school pen", a Reform 1745, and decided to fill it with Pelikan Brilliant Brown. This Reform was made probably in the 1980s, and was a very inexpensive piton filler which made an obvious effort to evoke memories of the old Pelikans, in its design and colours. School pens, meant primarily for students, are usually very basic pens.

Although the plastic is lighter, and the piston feels a bit flimsier than I'm used to on a Pelikan or TWSBI, the pen worked well, filling with no trouble at all. The nib was a real surprise. It was smooth, although not exceptionally so, but it also seemed to possess a slight degree of flex. At least, under the normal pressure of writing, I saw some line variation. It also, in spite of being a smaller pen, easily held enough ink to last me the entire day.

It is a light pen, and might not be the best choice to use day after day, since it might not hold up forever to constant use. However, it is also slender, well designed, and works surprisingly well. It would slip easily into most pen loops in briefcases or notebooks, costs little, and is another pen every serious writer should consider as a cheap option to carry around anywhere. Among pens costing less than ten dollars, this is one of the absolute best performers I've ever used. Although it isn't up to the standard of vintage pens, it is another example that shows just what can be done when a manufacturer tries to make a good product at a reasonable price. In the process, Reform puts most modern pen makers to shame.

To anyone used to the more vivid inks of Noodlers or Diamine, Pelikan Brilliant Brown appears a little "washed out" at first. It is a drier ink, although in a good nib it is no problem to use. And once you grow used to it, the more transparent brown has a charm of its own. I'd say the shade is almost a chestnut colour. As this is a lighter ink, oranges and lighter reds used for markup might be easily overlooked, but a black or any other dark, contrasting colour would serve well.

The one drawback for a writer is that this is the only ink I've noticed permanence issues with in ordinary use. One of my hands must have been a bit damp at one point, and a small section of the text actually ran, even though the paper didn't appear wet. Since it was a small area, this won't be a problem when transcribing the manuscript - but I'm sure that if the page had actually gotten wet, I would have lost everything I wrote. On the other hand, I do know from prior experience that Pelikan inks behave a bit better than that once they've had time to dry.

I was able to write 2,758 words in all, for a total so far of 26,805 words. That is an encouraging burst that will serve me well if I get stuck, although I would prefer not to rely on it unless I have no other choice. It is much easier to sit back and wait until I can validate my word count than to struggle through the last few days writing as fast as possible.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day Eleven: Parker Senior Duofold Deluxe with Waterman Blue-Black

For day eleven, I chose a very special pen, a vintage Parker Senior Duofold Deluxe, made about 1930. This pen belonged to a very good friend of mine who wrote, loved fountain pens - and who died in 2007. This is one of three of his pens that I now own. It was probably bought by his father, as it was filled with very old dried ink when I first got it. Richard Binder cleaned it and replaced the ink sac, and did an excellent job of that. (At my specific request, he did not polish it or do any cosmetic repairs.)

I had been waiting to use this pen until I got some Waterman or Diamine inks, as they require less maintenance and are thus better, in my opinion, for using in vintage pens where no risk of problems at all is acceptable, so I had not yet tried the pen out. For my writing, I decided to ink it with Waterman Blue-Black. It is a button filler, and my experience has forced me to conclude that either button fillers have relatively poor ink capacity, or I simply do not have the knack of filling them properly. I needed to fill the pen a total of four times before I was done for the day.

I had the same experience in controlling the nib as I did with the Merlin Perfect, in that it seemed more difficult to control the nib than with other pens I've used. This may be due to the large nibs, and to the altered angle required to hold the pen and control the tip of the nib on the page. It was different than the Perfect, however, in that the nib did not "come alive" and lacked the responsiveness of the Perfect's nib. Since the Perfect is the only pen I have ever used which has exhibited even a trace of this quality, I can't object too much about that.

It was a fun pen to write with, and I found the huge nib and the vintage appearance inspiring. However, the repeated need to refill it with ink did frustrate me. This is still a very special pen, but it isn't the first pen I'd reach for when I wanted to do some serious writing. Although I might well use it in a special project. For those who aren't used to the old Duofolds, the barrel was originally the same colour as the cap, but the decay of the rubber ink sac inside caused it to darken. (It now has a latex sac installed, to prevent further changes). However, I like the two-tone appearance it now has, and even thought originally that it had been intentional. Another interesting feature of this pen is the fact its gold nib is actually stamped with a serial number.

I was not at all impressed with Waterman Blue-Black. For one thing, the colour is a lighter blue than I expected. I wouldn't call it "blue-black" at all. More important, although the ink did flow well, it offered almost no lubrication to the nib as I wrote. The feel was almost that of running a dry nib across the page. The nib itself is smooth, so I managed to endure it, but with a nib that was even slightly scratchy, this ink would be pure torment. So far, I'm strongly inclined to think Diamine will be my ink of choice for pens that need "special handling".

I wrote 2,305 words all told on day eleven, for a total so far of 24,047 words. The writing is going well, and I'm nearly halfway there less than halfway through the month. That is encouraging, but I dare not allow myself to grow complacent until I actually have as many words as I need. Too many things could still go wrong.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day Ten: Pelikan M250 Demonstrator with "Strawberries in Amber"

For day ten, I chose a beautiful Pelikan M250 demonstrator in amber, with an extra fine nib. I bought this new a few years ago, and have enjoyed using it. Since the pen is amber, I thought that I'd try J. Herbin's Ambre de Birmanie ink in it... In another pen, it had been dark enough to use for writing, and in my whimsy of matching the ink to the pen, I forgot to consider that it would appear lighter coming from an extra fine nib.

After just a few lines, I was satisfied that I would not be able to finish the day's test using that ink. I just could not see it on the page well enough. (It did darken later as it dried, and appears much easier to read in the photo than it did while I was working with it, but I dared not leave myself with several pages of manuscript I could barely read.) Since I didn't want to just throw out the ink, and the nib on the M250 screws out easily, I got out my trusty ink syringe, unscrewed the nib, and squirted in just enough Diamine Wild Strawberry to fill the air pocket that remains in any piston filler after you've filled it once.

I took no measurements, other than the fact I had just filled the pen, written too little to make any real difference in the ink level, and then filled the "air bubble" with the second colour. I chose to call the result "Strawberries in Amber", since I like the result enough that I'm hoping I'll be able to recreate the proportions. (There is a technique where you can advance the piston again - slowly, carefully - until the air bubble is expelled and then draw in more ink, but I hadn't used this as it wouldn't be necessary for a single day's writing.)

The Pelikan is a nice pen to write with. The nib has a tiny bit of feedback, as almost every extra fine nib will, but it is smooth and wet. The pen holds enough ink to avoid any risk of being interrupted in the middle of a thought, and with a demonstrator, you can check the ink level every time you pick it up for an extra level of security. The amber demonstrator is also a very beautiful pen.

Yes, the Pelikan is more expensive than many of the other pens I've tried so far. I still find it worthwhile to have a pen like this on hand. When you spend much of your day holding and using a certain tool, you want to have the option of using a good one. So I would still suggest any writer at least consider getting one of these, although my recent exposure to vintage pens has left me less enthusiastic about any modern pen that isn't a real bargain. Still, I'm fond of this pen, and I doubt I'll ever set it aside entirely. (I actually have a second amber M250 with a fine nib, and an amber M200 as well.)

The original J. Herbin ink (visible in the first few lines of the photo) deserves a few mentions on its own. It is a fairly dry ink, leaving any nib scratchier on the page than it would be with most other inks. The design of the ink bottle also deserves a special "hall of shame" award. The relatively small quantity of ink is so spread out in the shallow design that with most pens, it will be impossible to fill them while more than half the ink remains. That's a shame, because otherwise the bottle is quite attractive. The ink itself is also noteworthy as the most true amber shade I've found so far.

This was my first exposure to Diamine's Wild Strawberry, and two things stood out immediately. First, although I mixed in much less of this, it immediately dominated the result. It is clearly a nice, strong colour on its own. And the result was also much more well lubricated, which has me eager to try the undiluted Wild Strawberry to see how well it behaves. My mixture has an obvious note of strawberry, while hinting at something else beneath, perhaps strawberry lemonade. I really hope I can recreate this later. It was bright and fun to write with, and it might be an interesting choice for markup.

Despite being under such pressure that I forgot to consider how such a potentially difficult ink - since it is so light compared to most colours - might work in an extra fine nib, I managed to write 2,206 words, for a total so far of 21,742 words so far. The story continues to appeal to me, and my greatest concern is the number of inked pens piling up that I have not yet managed to clean.

Day Nine: Parker 21 Super with Purple Heart

For day nine, I chose a beautiful red Parker 21 Super with a custom ground fine cursive italic nib. I bought this pen new old stock from Peyton Street Pens. The one I bought was offered with the nib already ground by Pendleton Brown. The "Super" is a somewhat better version of the Parker 21, with a fully hooded nib. To ink it up, I chose Noodlers Purple Heart from Goulet Pens, even though I had tried this ink already. I wanted to see how the ink would work with this special nib.

The aerometric filler worked without a fuss, pulling in more than enough ink to last for the day's writing session. Since it is a cursive italic, the nib is slightly demanding, but it writes smoothly, offers excellent line variation, and it isn't fussy enough to distract me from my writing. The cap snaps on, but doesn't grip firmly. This isn't a huge problem, but this is another pen I'd always want to carry in a pouch and not in a pocket.

It also seems that replacing and removing the cap can sometimes loosen the section where it screws into the barrel. Again, this is not a real problem, just a matter of giving the section a quick half turn or so when necessary. Since I am aware of the reputation of the "21" for barrels that are easily cracked, this could also be due to my own reluctance to tighten it too far. This is a nice pen, and works well. Any writer could use an ordinary 21 Super in their daily work, when you can find one in good shape. But the real star of this pen is the nib, since the custom grind gives it real character.

The pen as I tested it would make an excellent choice to take to book signings, lending your autograph a bit of special personality. At the same time, the fact it began life as a fine nib means that it is perfectly suitable for writing out a long manuscript as well. The line variation helps to keep things interesting, and I found that it gave me extra motivation to keep on writing. All in all, this is a very nice pen to have on hand.

As for the Purple Heart ink, it behaved just as well in this pen as it did in the other one. It is a smooth, reliable ink with an absolutely beautiful colour that has even more appeal when used in an italic nib. As before, the photo just does not do justice to this ink. I am convinced this is one of those inks you must see in person to fully appreciate. In spite of my worries about the difficulty of cleaning it out afterward, I'm really itching to try this out in my Merlin Perfect.

I wrote 1,960 words on day nine, for a total so far of 19,536 words. The story is coming along nicely, and I'm gaining a better grasp of some nuances of the writing process. The final draft will certainly involve some real changes from this draft, but I'm doing a better job at capturing those shifts in later passages, as a form of note to myself for later, when I'm editing. If only I could catch up with everything that has fallen behind and stayed there, I'd be ecstatic!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day Eight: Senator Windsor with Bad Blue Heron

For day eight, I had planned to use a completely different pen, an interesting post-war piston filler from Europe. I filled that up with Noodlers Burgundy, settled it down in my pen case, and went outside to write, since it was a nice, warm day. When I got out there, and took out my pen, it didn't appear to have any ink in it, even though I'd just filled it. I'm not sure just what I was going to do, but I began to remove the blind cap to reach the piston knob - and burgundy ink leaked out all over my fingers. It was a fifty year old pen, so it is no surprise the rubber seals finally gave out, but it was a very inconvenient moment. And cost me at least half an hour.

So I grabbed the first pen I could easily reach, and the ink that was closest to hand. The pen turned out to be a German Senator Windsor, a pen that is no longer made but isn't that old. And the ink was Noodlers Bad Blue Heron. The Senator Windsor is an interesting pen, a relatively inexpensive plastic piston filler made sometime around the 1990s.

Although there are many other piston fillers with larger ink capacity, the Windsor holds enough for a day's writing, even when using a wet medium nib, which goes through ink more quickly than a fine or a dry nib would tend to do. The nib on these pens is interesting, in that it appears to be made differently than any other nib I've ever seen. I don't pretend to be a nib expert, so there may be other nibs like this out there, but the nibs on the two Windsors I own are the only nibs I've personally seen like this.

The slit between the tines is thinner than on any other nib I've ever seen. Where most other nibs show a tiny gap of air between the tines, and even the ones that don't seem on the verge of doing so, this appears almost more like a line in the metal than an actual slit. On any other nib, such a narrow gap between the tines would spell trouble, and would require some serious readjustment. But both of these nibs are smooth and wet, and write very nicely. In terms of the writing experience, the Senator Windsor has a lot to teach many much more expensive pens.

For that reason, and the fact that they do hold a fair amount of ink, I'd recommend to any writer who has the opportunity to do so that they pick up a couple of these and take good care of them. They are great everyday writing tools. While they don't have the quality or the flair of most vintage pens, for a fairly modern pen, they are one of the best deals you can get. I don't take the risks with these that I am willing to take with the cheap Chinese pens I own, but they aren't so precious that I don't dare use them except under ideal conditions, so they represent a nice compromise between those extremes.

As for Bad Blue Heron, which is one of Noodlers "Wardens" series of inks, this was the first time I had used it. With the exception of turquoise, I am not a huge fan of blues, and so it took me a while to get around to buying a bottle of this. I'm glad I did; in a single day, it has become one of a handful of inks I'd use for just about any project. The name is very appropriate; it is a nice, dark, muted blue with a distinct shade of grey to it, a real slate blue.

It is also a nice, wet ink that does a great job of lubricating the nib as it slides over the paper. And this is one of Noodlers inks that you can get wet without losing what you've written. So I consider this an ideal ink for every writer, a nice soft colour that is easy on the eyes, safe even if you spill your coffee, and works well. You could use this for a full manuscript, and enjoy a full range of colours for markup, including any good, deep black, or you could mark up a black manuscript, although it might not stand out too sharply in that case.

Altogether, I wrote a total of 2,709 words, for a total so far of 17,576 words. Although I dare not grow complacent - and I'm still struggling hopelessly to catch up with just about everything else - I am still ahead of my target. I don't have a huge margin, but I'm not in any trouble yet. And the further I go, the easier it will become to maintain the momentum of the story, unless something goes drastically wrong. So I'm cautiously optimistic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day Seven: Wing Sung 237 with Habanero

For day seven, I chose an older Chinese pen, a new old stock Wing Sung 237 made of metal and celluoid, and filled it up with Noodlers Habanero. For those who are unfamiliar with Wing Sung pens, although I don't know the details of the history of the make, it would appear from some of their models that they may have taken over a Sheaffer factory in China, or at least obtained some of their tooling.

The Wing Sung 237 is not a direct clone of any Sheaffer model, but it does feature a Triumph style nib, in gold hued steel stamped with Chinese characters. For reasons known only to insiders at Wing Sung, the tip of these nibs does not turn up slightly in the manner of the true Triumph nibs. The pen is an attractive, bright red "cracked ice" style celluloid barrel with a metal cap made of cheaply finished metal. It is a squeeze filler, or perhaps an aerometric. Like the Hero I tried earlier, it was impossible to force the pen to draw in enough ink to be visible in the clear portion of the filling mechanism.

Despite the failure of the makers to copy the highly effective "Waverley" pattern of the upturned tip, the nib is smooth and writes well. There are certainly better nibs available, but for a pen that costs so little, it is an exceptional nib. It also, like the Hero, did hold enough ink to get through the day's writing, despite the fact it was only partially filled. It is a bit light in the hand, and feels as if it could be easily damaged, but for an inexpensive pen this is a very good buy.

I'm not sure that I'd quite say it is a pen every writer should have on hand, but for any writer who likes the look of this particular pen or just wants another cheap pen to keep around for casual use, it will serve quite well. The metal of the cap and the end tassie does appear to tarnish easily; it isn't clear just what alloy this is made of, but it does detract from the appearance of the pen. The cap also slips on, and the pen can easily come "unmoored".

Habanero is a nice orange with a hint of brown. It is dark enough to read easily, and bright enough to stand out in contrast to just about any ink other than oranges and lighter or brighter reds. I found it helped me set the mood when writing scenes set in the Blitz, with incendiaries falling nearly every night, setting fires that devastate portions of London. This is one of my favourite inks for marking up printouts, or even handwritten manuscripts.

In spite of a difficult scene, in which my main character learns that another major character is dead, I was able to write 2,255 words, for a total to date of 14,867 words. I am eager to see just how much I can do, so I have no plans to slack off, but I am safely on target. I was in part lucky; the scene where poor George learns his wife is dead came at the end of the day, so I could set it aside and deal with my own emotions before getting back to work. (Yes, killing characters I've grown fond of, even when the actual death is off the page, is difficult for me. It is for most writers.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day Six: Sheaffer Imperial II with Kiowa Pecan

For day six, I chose a nice burgundy Sheaffer Imperial II Deluxe that I bought as new old stock from Peyton Street Pens. This pen was made in the early 1960s, and has a palladium silver Triumph style nib and the Touchdown filling system. It is one of the last of the fountain pens produced as serious writing instruments, before the craze for cartridge fillers and the dominance of cheap, disposable ballpoints.

Although brown is a colour I prefer to use for many manuscripts, I had not used a brown ink yet in this series of tests, so I decided to ink it up with Noodlers Kiowa Pecan. The filling system on this pen is a pleasure to use. You just unscrew the knob, pull out the plunger, dip the nib into the ink bottle, and push the plunger down. After you wait a moment, the pen is filled with enough ink to last you for a solid day's writing.

This Sheaffer is light, since it is made mostly of plastic, but it sits nicely in the hand and is very easy to write with. The nib is incredibly smooth, in part because the tip is slightly upturned. This design feature, first seen in the Waverley nib back in 1864 and all but forgotten by most pen manufacturers. By altering the angle at which the nib meets the paper, it causes it to write more smoothly than it otherwise would. As a result, this pen is a dream to write with. It is another pen every serious writer ought to think about owning. My only real concern with it is that the clip, although it does snap onto the body, does not do so securely enough for my tastes. I'd never consider clipping one of these in a shirt pocket; I'd always carry it in a pouch, lest something happen to it. When considered in terms of the price, and performance, of modern pens, this pen was an incredible bargain.

Kiowa Pecan is a nice medium brown, although it is a bit duller than my favourite browns. It is also a fairly dry ink, although with this nib, that was never an issue. At times, this can even be an advantage, since it seems to dry more quickly on the page than many other inks. If you are concerned about drying times, this would be a good ink to consider. It is also a nice colour for manuscripts, dark enough to read easily, although marking up a page written in Kiowa Pecan with some reds or oranges might prevent your edits from standing out easily. On the other hand, any very dark ink will show up just fine.

Altogether on day six, I managed to write another 1,992 words, for a total to date of 12,612 words. Since this total averages out to slightly more than two thousand words per day, I am comfortably ahead of my target. On the other hand, I dare not allow myself to grow complacent, since a single day of laziness could melt that lead away and leave me barely where I need to be. And, of course, the later in the month it is, the more serious any slowdown can be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day Five: TWSBI Diamond 540 with Navajo Turquoise

For day five, I chose a sturdy workhorse of a pen, my new TWSBI Diamond 540 with an extra fine nib, filled with Noodlers Navajo Turquoise. This is one of the first four hundred Diamond 540s made (specifically, one of the first hundred with extra fine nibs), and I've already used it extensively, so there were no surprises. There is a certain pleasure in using a familiar pen, one you know just what to expect from.

Upon later reflection, evaluating any pen the day after my introduction to the Merlin Perfect seems unfair, so be sure to read my second test of a TWSBI, the earlier Diamond 530, to get a clearer idea of what this pen is really like. And, as you read on, note that even after having my expectations raised so high, I was pleased enough with the Diamond 540 to keep from utterly savaging it; not many pens would have fared so well this day...

Although the more I use vintage pens, the more firmly I am convinced that no modern pen can even approach what used to be taken for granted, I am still a big fan of TWSBI pens. They are relatively inexpensive, superbly designed, and sturdy. They work well and are dependable. If they were only fitted with a truly excellent nib, they'd be the equal of any pen in the world. But excellent nibs are not made any longer. Even decent nibs, by the standards of vintage pens, are no longer to be had. The best nibs available are distinctly pedestrian.

For a modern pen, the TWSBI has a very nice nib. Most of the time, I'm perfectly happy using my TWSBI, but this experience suffered by comparison with the truly amazing Merlin Perfect I used the day before, and the Eversharp Ventura I used only a few days before. Still, the TWSBI is a nice large pen, a piston filler that holds enough ink to write several chapters at once without pausing. It is designed to be fully user serviceable, and comes in a well thought out storage box that, deservedly, won an international design award.

It writes well if not exceptionally, and gives no trouble. TWSBI nibs seem to tend toward the dry, but not so much so as to be unpleasant. The extra fine nib gives a very fine line, which is useful either for marking up, or just for squeezing in a few words above the line, something that is often necessary when an alternate phrasing comes to mind, just too late. The clear body on the demonstrator model I used gives an excellent view of the remaining ink supply, preventing unwelcome surprises. It is also beautiful in its own right, and enhances the appearance of whatever colour of ink you load it up with.

The Diamond 540 is a good working writer's tool, a pen that might not provide much inspiration, but does get the job done without any fuss. I'd recommend any serious writer to have at least one on hand. It is possible to buy extra nib units for this pen, and the units are interchangeable, so you can use it with different nibs. On the other hand, it is such a useful pen, it is worth having more than one in different nib widths. Even as I discover just how much better a vintage pen can be, I'm still convinced of the value of my Diamond 540, and plan to get one or two more. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to replace or repair, and hold buckets of ink. In situations where you want something good enough to rely on, instead of just a throw-away pen, but still don't want to risk an irreplaceable pen, the TWSBI is the perfect choice.

Noodlers Navajo Turquoise is a nice, light turquoise blue that I enjoy using for many manuscripts. It is a bit drier than the wettest Noodlers inks, but still wet enough to make for an enjoyable writing experience. It is a bit light to read easily in dim light, but on the other hand, you can easily mark up an manuscript written in Navajo Turquoise using either the usual red or orange inks, or any darker ink, since that will stand out equally well. Only the most ardent fans of turquoise will want to use this exclusively, but it is a nice choice for variety. Personally, this is another of the inks that I try to keep on hand all the time.

Altogether on day five, I wrote 2,449 words, bringing me up to 10,620 words to date. Despite the problems, I've managed to stay on target so far, and even pull slightly ahead of where I need to be to finish without the necessity of struggling to catch up. I love taking part in NaNo, because I always learn a little bit more about writing, but this time, I'm learning a great deal about my pens as well. For all the drama, and all the work involved in trying to catch up, I'm pleased that I decided to do this.

Day Four: Merlin Perfect with Diamine Denim

For the fourth day, I chose a beautiful vintage Merlin Perfect I bought from Allard Borst, over at the Fountain Pen Network. This is a German made pen that was manufactured specifically for the Dutch market, and the Perfect appears to have been made in the 1930s, although I don't have detailed information on it. I had not yet tried this pen, and I was eager to see how it performed, so I decided to fill it with Diamine Denim. The pen quickly lived up to the promise of its name.

It was fascinating writing with this pen. I've used, and enjoyed, other vintage pens, but something about the design of this specific pen causes it to "handle" differently than any of the pens I've tried. It took a bit of getting used to, but the overall effect was to give a certain 'old-fashioned' appearance to my handwriting. I wasn't specifically trying to flex the nib, since that often requires specific attention, and I'm trying to write quickly, but the nib flexed easily, just as a natural response to my writing. In addition, the nib seems to project a bit further from the section, and this makes the whole process of controlling the tip a bit different than what I'm used to.

It is not that the pen is awkward, simply that my habits aren't attuned to the way it works. Someone who only drove a pickup truck might have trouble getting used to a sports car, for similar reasons. Even in my first moments getting used to it, it was obvious the pen was carefully and very well designed. This would appear to have been a reasonably ordinary pen in its day, which is amazing to me. I don't tend to buy the expensive modern "limited editions", with their artificial scarcity to drive up the price. They just don't have enough to offer me. But if a pen like this one was available, at triple the price of any of the most exclusive limited editions, I'd start saving my money.

It is a beautiful pen, made of green and black striped celluloid, but I wouldn't buy it for its looks. It is performance where this pen really shines. I've used a lot of pens, some of which cost me much more than this one did, and I've really enjoyed some of them. But if I absolutely had to make do with only a single pen, laying sentimental considerations aside, it just might be this Merlin Perfect. The nib is responsive in a way no other nib I've tried has been, it flexes easily and naturally, and although it is a slightly more demanding nib than some, it is smooth and comfortable to write with.

Lest it seem that I'm merely carried away by a momentary enthusiasm, I must add that my enjoyment of this pen was in spite of the fact it violated one of my most basic requirements in a pen. While writing, I had to stop and refill it twice, for a total of three fills. I dislike the necessity of stopping in the midst of a thought to fill a pen, and make a special effort to stick to pens that hold enough ink to last for at least a day. I did, finally, switch to another pen to finish when the third fill ran out, but that was with reluctance, and only because my cats were very active, and my bottles of Diamine tucked away in a very inconvenient place, due to their awkward size. Any pen that can leave me happy after interrupting my writing three times in a single day is a special pen indeed. (I must confess that at least some of the problem was my fault; I'm not sure of the exact ink capacity, but while cleaning the pen, I discovered that in my haste, I hadn't been pressing the button firmly enough, so I wasn't allowing the pen to fill properly. But even before I knew this, I was happy with it in spite of what I'd normally consider a fatal flaw.)

The Merlin Perfect is a fairly hard pen to find, and this is the only one I own, so I don't know if every single one sported such an amazing nib. But the design alone, and the possibility of another nib like this one, are enough to make me consider this a pen every writer ought to be on the lookout for. Just be aware, you'll be competing with me... I now desire to own every single Merlin Perfect I can get my hands on. Writing is such fun with one of these in hand, it is harder to stop than to keep going. And the quality of the writing it produces is an inspiration in itself.

Diamine Denim, as its name implies, is a nice, dark blue, what I think of as an indigo. It is nice and wet and smooth, but it is hard for me to really judge this ink. I like it, and I plan on getting another bottle when this one runs low - but the drabbest of inks, the dullest and least attractive shade you could possibly find, would look beautiful flowing out of this nib. I recently began trying Diamine because it is one of two brands Richard Binder specifically mentions as being most trouble-free for use in pens that aren't as easily cleaned out, such as button fillers - and Watermans has a much more limited range of colours.

It is a nice dark blue, a colour that is easy to see, and would be easy enough to mark up using any bright ink for contrast. As such, it could be a nice choice for writing manuscripts, although writers should be aware that this is an ink which may not stand up well to water. If your manuscript gets wet, you could probably read what you had written, but even that is not guranteed. Like most (but not all) inks, Denim is a bit duller and less appealing when dry than it is when it first goes on wet, but it is still a nice looking dark blue.

As a footnote to those who are following what pens I'm using in this manuscript, when the ink ran out for the third time, I finished the day with the Wality 77D I used for my initial notes, still filled with Noodlers Air Corps Blue Black. I wrote 1,903 words, for a total to date of 8,171 words. Despite the fun I'm having trying out different pens, I was sad to think I won't be using my beautiful Perfect pen for a while. I understand the photos I'm posting are not ideal - this is the largest image size Blogger is allowing me to select - but try to look at the writing in the photo above. The interesting aspect of my handwriting, the real character, is due to the pen, while the fact it is still an illegible scrawl is my own fault. That's what you get when you are trying to write fast enough to keep up with your thoughts.