Interview: Rosemary Gemmell, Novelist

If the mind is a well of creativity, the trick is figuring out how to tap it.

For some writers, like Scottish novelist Rosemary Gemmell, the solution is as simple as a pen.

It becomes the conduit between thought and reality. As the ink flows, so do the ideas, and characters and story begin to take shape.

Today, Rosemary takes a little time to share how pen-and-paper work for her.

Rosemary gemmell bl

Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in the beautiful west coast of Scotland which is always inspiring. After bringing up a family and working part-time while studying as a mature student for a BA honours degree in literature and history and a post-graduate Masters in Humanities from the Open University, I finally became a full-time writer. This doesn’t mean writing full-time, as I fit in talks and adjudications for writing groups as well as coffee and lunch breaks with friends!

What do you write?

I was known as a published short story and article writer first, with occasional poetry and children’s stories. I’ve had stories and articles published in several UK magazines, some in the USA and I used to write for one Canadian and one American online company. Now I also write romantic novels with intrigue, both historical and contemporary. Although my latest novel, The Highland Lass, is under my full name, some of my more romantic novels are written as Romy and two tween books are under Ros. 

Please describe your writing process?

I usually start with the main characters and a problem or major change in their lives, as well as where and when the story will be set, with only a vague idea of the whole storyline at the beginning. I then prefer to allow the story to develop as I get to know the characters more fully and as they interact with one another.

What part do pen and paper play in that process?

I often start writing ideas down in a notepad before going anywhere near the computer and I try to make a note of the main characters’ names, ages and brief description. I also keep a pen and paper nearby when reading magazines in case I find anything of interest to jot down, or items to check out at a later date. With articles, I write down all the information necessary onto a notepad before shaping it into a finished piece on the computer.

What are the advantages to using pen and paper when you’re out and about as opposed to something like a tablet or laptop?

This is when I really love using a pen and paper, especially in cafes or on trains. It’s so much more convenient to carry a notebook and a couple of pens around in a handbag rather than lugging around a laptop or tablet. I also prefer having a rest from electronic devices when outside and still don’t have the Internet on my phone, by choice, as I spend enough time on social media. Pen and paper are also more discreet when I’m having coffee in a café and don’t attract the same attention as typing onto a laptop.

How does using pen and paper affect your creativity?

I’m increasingly convinced that writing with a pen onto paper provides a more direct line to creativity. It amazes me how my writing flows more fluidly when writing this way, as though the ideas in my head connect more easily with getting the words onto the paper. Perhaps being out of the home environment adds to this feeling of creativity with pen and paper. When on a train or in a café, I feel very comfortable writing this way and as far as anyone else is concerned, I could merely be writing a shopping list!

In what ways does writing by hand help make you a better writer?

I always write poetry onto paper first as I think it’s one of most creative forms of writing and it allows me to experiment with different words and lines until I’m happy with it. The computer seems to form a kind of barrier to expression sometimes – but it’s fine for redrafting and typing out the finished result. I also find writing by hand seems to stop me procrastinating so much. I always write the next part of what I’m working on in the café I go to each week, or on the train if I’m going into town and find it flows so much better than straight onto the computer at home.

What pens/notebooks do you use?

Like most writers, I’m addicted to notebooks and have a good variety of sizes and styles – some for handbags, some for keeping a record of ideas, and yet another for listing all my submissions and acceptances. I much prefer everything in notebooks rather than on the computer as I can look at them at any time. Apart from the smaller notebooks for bags and writing in cafes, I prefer A5 size for all other purposes.

I usually prefer pens to pencils, and at one time it had to be blue ink. As they are sometimes more difficult to find, I’ve adapted to black ink. But I still write my journal in blue! I prefer a fine ballpoint but can use most types of pen apart from anything that’s a bit chunky to hold. I do love the feel of an expensive, fine ball point when I use it. I’m not the kind of writer who must use the same type of pen at all times!

How do you organize the notes you take by hand?

I fill copious pages of small notebooks when out and about and shove them all in a drawer as they fill up, then I really enjoy spending an enjoyable time going through them all and sorting the ideas from the ideas, notes and references. The ideas worth keeping then get written into the A5 notebook I’m currently using for that purpose. General notes are discarded once they’re used in a story, article or poem and typed up. I also keep a notebook for any links or references I need to check out or keep.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a full length novel set in Scotland again and have just published a second collection of short stories, but I’ve also started a Victorian crime novel which I’d like to continue at some point. With that, I’m at the stage of seeing how the story and characters develop and deciding what other research I need for it, apart from what I previously studied. And some of that research will be carried out at an excellent old library using my pen and paper to take notes!


Rosemary, thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about your work and writing by hand!

Photo of author

Tony Bridges

As a seasoned journalist and freelance writer, I've spent over three decades telling stories and exploring the world through the written word. With a passion for writing instruments, I found my niche at The Pen Vibe, a blog that shares our collective fascination with pens, pencils, and other tools that have shaped the art of writing.

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