Something for posterity?

leobookPhil: Last week, I found myself with an hour to kill in the Kings Cross area of London. Obviously I did what anyone of a writerly persuasion would do, I dropped in to the British Library.

Now you don’t use the BL to borrow books. Not if you live 2 hours from it by train anyway. Bad enough to pay late fines without having to think about the ticket to get there. Quite a lot of people seem to use it as somewhere to eat – the giant foyer was littered with people eating those posh lunches you only see in London. Plenty were using laptops or tablets too.

Me, I headed into one of the exhibition halls. Treasures of the British Library shows off some of the most famous bits of paper in the collection.

“Bits of paper”? Yes, it’s not just books but letters and notes.

The amazing thing is that for no money, I could stand in a room and look at words written by legendary historical figures. The very first case contained one of Leonardo de Vinci’s notebooks. 5 feet away, a Michelangelo (not the turtle) set of notes on figure proportions.

Around the corner, a letter started by Anne Boleyn and completed by hubby King Henry VIII.

All these just a few centimetres and a sheet of thick glass away from me. Words written by real people who exist only in history books. All I could think was stupid thoughts like, “de Vinci touched that paper.”

It set me thinking. What will be left for future scholars to drool over?

Using our book as an example, most of the work is carried out on computers. I know my handwriting is terrible and I’m so out of practise that if I have to fill a long form in with a pen, my wrist hurts.

There are notebooks of course, and a big pile of Post-It notes but we aren’t really generating much that the BL will want to stick in a cabinet in the future. No one wants to look at an early NolanParker manuscript and think, “Candice and Phil typed that.”.

Maybe we are generating lots more words but our methods have lost something over the years. That said, I’ve never seen a publisher asks for novels to submitted in quill pen and having seen Henry’s handwriting, I can see why.

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