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January 22, 2013


‘Bookart retreat on Iona’ by Rachel Hazell.
A Hazell Designs Books Workshop: Iona Hostel 7th – 10th March 2013, inc. £350.00

A mild disappointment of my adult life has been my failure to have a good writing ‘hand’. I watch people who write well, who appear effortlessly to make clear, elegant and legible marks with their pen, and I’m filled with despondency and awe. It wasn’t always so. I won the hand-writing prize in Fintry Primary School for two years running! Damage began in secondary school where writing speed was essential. Others seemed to master the transition and come out with something quickly yet legibly written, but I didn’t. My hand-writing collapsed into something resembling a straight line with wobbles. Did being left-handed have a part to play ? From my early teens, my handwriting became a foreign language to me, never mind to others.

It’s not that I’m cack-handed (as the mitt-fisted are called in Scotland). In my ’20’s I loved working with calligraphy, particularly Celtic, and I was good at it but I was far better with the decoration than the script. I spent the better part of my adult life as a craftsman (an oriental textile restorer / conservator) yet the frustration in being unable to write legibly and aesthetically remains.

So, the world of word processors and pc’s has been a liberation to me. For the last thirty odd years I have expressed myself best (or at least to my best satisfaction) through typewriters and pc’s. I love them. They help me order my thoughts and express myself. Pre my first word-processor I had a glorious golfball typewriter. Huge, humming, chattering and clattering it felt like a printing press. A part of the machine, I felt I should be strapped into its cockpit. These pc’s are tame things !

And that’s what I miss about writing. It’s the sheer physicality and the form, the materials and the tradition, the hand / eye coordination and the aesthetics. Mostly, probably, it is the unmediated and creative potential of letting your hand help form your ideas.

However, what I have lost in the pleasure of good hand-writing and pensmanship I’ve made up for in the pleasure of the form: the books, the papers and inks, the paraphernalia, the graphics, flourishes and writing styles of others. Just how the form can influence and enhances the content and how that attention to the form informs and enhances the personality of a piece of writing. And of course, that love of the materials and process can lead to all sorts of creative and literary possibilities. I’ve just read a biography of Sylvia Townsend Warner. It tells how her love of writing came about through her desire to find use for what she described as ‘these intensely desirable reams of discarded white paper’. She was ‘led away by paper’ and this companionable journey resulted in a lifetime of journals, poems, novels and articles for the New Yorker.

This is the territory Rachel Hazell so confidently explores in her workshops: that the act of bookmaking in itself might lead you away to something new. Having travelled the world teaching bookart, her workshops tends to be loose and fairly unstructured, so allowing for groups or individuals to prioritise what catches their imagination, to follow their creative noses.

Rachel writes: ‘The workshop theme will be exactly what you want to focus on, probably inspired by personal journeys, maps and the particular contours and memories of the Iona landscape. Your unique pages of text and image will be bound into driftwood covers using a coptic stitch. There will be time for other papery exercises, discussion and hot chocolate, and time still to explore the pre-visitor stillness of an Iona waking from a long winter.’

For details of this course, email me at the hostel or contact Rachel directly at Her website is

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula permalink
    January 23, 2013 1:33 pm

    You may not have a writing hand but you are a very good writer indeed. Such an inspirational piece!
    Lucky those who attend that workshop!
    Iona always makes me feel creative and reading about Hazel’s workshops on her blog really makes me want to experience one.

  2. Sarah permalink
    January 30, 2013 6:16 pm

    I think you have lovely artistic handwriting. And I love the driftwood cover – I’ll have to persuade you to show me how in Shetland! I can’t manage Iona this time as going in May, but know you will have a fabulously creative trip.

    • January 30, 2013 8:43 pm

      Hi Sarah,

      Hi Sarah,

      John here -I think you must have been intending your message for Rachel ! She’s told me about you and if you are ever on Iona do come and have a coffee.

      Best wishes,


      • Sarah Clark permalink
        January 30, 2013 8:56 pm

        Maybe Rachel also told you I am not very computer savvy – haven’t quite got the hang of clicking on the right links etc! So, yes – sorry this was meant for Rachel, whose blog I was reading and then got distracted following various clicks and links, etc! Anyway, I now seem to be following Iona Hostel too! I’m coming to Iona at the end of May, so will definitely come and find you. Look forward to meeting you. Sarah PS. Rachel – I DO need help with blogs and links and followings etc!

      • January 30, 2013 9:02 pm

        Me too…. they don’t call it the web for nothing ! I’ll look forward to meeting you in May.


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