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Notebooks (Toby Litt)

Par Toby Litt
Publié par Clifford Armion le 03/07/2014

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Chaque année, les invités des Assises Internationales du Roman rédigent la définition d'un mot de leur choix : il s'agit ici du mot "notebooks", défini par l'auteur anglais Toby Litt.

I am not a diarist. I don’t think my day-to-day life worth recording. And I don’t like commenting on events (media-political) in which I’ve played no part.

I don’t keep journals. I feel, as a form, they put too much pressure on each individual entry. To my eyes, journals seem slightly too primped for posterity. In order to enjoy them, as with the Goncourts and Gide, you must enjoy the primping.

I have notebooks and I take notes. I find the world most fascinating on a moment-by-moment, utterance-by-utterance basis. I find it more and more fascinating the longer I go on listening to it.

My notebooks are, I confess, Moleskines. I began using them nine years ago, before they became ubiquitous. I had fallen for Bruce Chatwin’s yearning descriptions of them. I would change my loyalty, if they weren’t such great notebooks. The best.

My desire to write began less as a desire to write and more as a desire to use stationery – ballpoint pens, notebooks.

I knew that, one day, I would have something to say in words. I had no idea what it was. But I wanted to start saying it.

Diagonally opposite my bedroom window – my bedroom window from the ages of five to twenty-one – was a stationers called Russell Press. From here, I eventually started to buy Silvine notebooks. They were a shade of orange that I didn’t really like, similar to the colour of Heinz tomato soup, but there wasn’t much choice, these were the only notebooks on sale that didn’t have vertical lines for accountancy.

If I had been able to buy Moleskines back then, I would have done – although the Silvine’s were very cheap, their price pencilled in to the top right-hand corner of the first page.

To begin with, I didn’t have more to write in my notebooks than would fill the first page or two. To begin with. But then, a while later, I found that I was writing surrealist poems. My influences were Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. I had read very little real poetry.

On my bedroom wall was a poster of Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus. This, I remember, replaced a poster of Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, and the interstellar mothership – from my second-favourite film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

When I had enough poems, I bought – I think – three fresh Silvine notebooks and copied out what I felt were the best of them. These compilations I entitled The Cool, Calm and Collected Poetry of Toby Litt.

Into all three of these Collected volumes, I copied out this rather horrible poem. It was addressed to my best friend, since the age of four:

No, it is too shameful to quote, and I don’t want to have to exhume it from the chest upstairs.

The gist of the poem was that whilst I was building myself a boat to cross the sea of life, my best friend was not, and that he might as a consequence drown.

I can’t remember, even then, thinking it was a good poem. I can remember thinking it was true.

What happened next was that I gave a copy of The Cool, Calm and Collected Poems of Toby Litt to a boy at school who said he was interested in reading my writing.

Although he was neither, he was the closest thing my year at school had to an aesthete or a homosexual. He was called F-----. I think he was my first willing reader and, as such, I am very grateful to him. Even considering what happened.

After reading the poems, F----- must have shown them to another boy (I am fairly certain I know who this was) who must have brought others over, who must have....

I am not sure exactly what happened. I wasn’t there. If I had been there, something quite different and possibly much worse would have happened.

Some of the poems, I later heard, were read out during break-time in one of the school Common Rooms, 3rd or 4th Form. The poem about the boat was disliked; it was hated.

The first I knew of all this was a few days later, when I received F-----’s copy of the The Cool, Calm and Collected Poems of Toby Litt through the post – in a brown envelope without postage.

The notebook had been burnt. The edges were blackened and flaky and rounded-off. Comments were to be found on the pages.

My best friend from the age of four, you will be glad to hear, has not drowned. His boat is afloat.

My boat, like everyone’s, needs constant bailing out. That poem about the boat is one of the worst leaks.

My first completed novel, unpublished and not likely to be, was called The Lost Notebook of Babel.

I had not made this connection until now.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Toby Litt, "Notebooks (Toby Litt)", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juillet 2014. Consulté le 20/05/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/notebooks-toby-litt-