Yes, yes, I know it’s getting late to buy Christmas presents, but luckily most places are still taking orders online until the end of the week at least. Last time I looked at pretty stuff for writers. This time it’s technology, equipment, and other useful stuff.
Update: Someone mentioned putting links to companies that pay their ‘fair share’ of UK tax. I don’t particularly want to get into the debate about tax but appreciate that a few people might feel this way. In some cases (chairs) I’ve used Amazon because the info they gave was just better or other companies were out of stock, and of course not all links lead to Amazon anyway, but I’ve put alternative buying links after some products.
You may already know how much I love Scrivener. Other writing software is available (some free, but that’s not much of a present, is it?), but frankly I have no reason to check it out when this one just works for me. It can turn cartwheels and do all sorts of clever stuff, but I use it because it allows me to organise and keep track of stories and manipulate them visually in a cork board, which is ace.
There’s a free 30 day trial, and they are Very Nice People too because I contacted them last week and they’ve agreed to give you guys 20% off until the end of December. Yay! Just enter the promo code CHRISTMAS at the checkout.
An ergonomically-sound place to write
A decent chair is the kind of thing you might not shell out on for yourself so it would make an ideal present for someone who loves you enough to care whether or not you have a terrible back and RSI in 10 years. Look for one with adjustable height seat (aim to have your forearms roughly horizontal while you work), lumbar support, casters if your floors are suitable, and ideally a breathable fabric. Unless you want to be clammy all summer, your choice…
If you have £1,000 or so to spend you could try the Herman Miller Embody, apparently the world’s “First Health-Positive Chair” from a company that also has good green credentials. No? Too much?
Well then, this one looks pretty reasonable in both performance and cost.
Or maybe you really, really want feel like you’re a race-car driver when you write?
I’d suggest searching for ergonomic chairs and seeing what suits you as it’s a very personal thing, but look for a site that actually describes the chair’s features so you know what you’re getting for the money (I’m looking at you, you useless-descriptions-peddlar Argos).
You can also buy lumbar support pads in various shapes and sizes that will help if you don’t want a new chair – this one has support at the sides too to encourage you to sit straight.
A wrist rest might be useful too. I like gel ones because the colours make me happy. Simple things…
Mmm, caffeine. Definitely essential writing equipment.
I’d dismissed the Aeropress (alternative link) in the past without even looking past the cheesy box and boring-looking plastic, but the reviews on coffee sites are so good that I’ve had to order one. Rave Coffee do the Aeropress in a great-looking gift set with ground coffee for not much more than the basic machine – present sorted.
For more traditional tastes the Bodum 3-cup cafetiere is a good size for one person and comes in 4 colours. This size press actually makes 1 modern mug or just a little more; get a 4-6 cup if you like more than that at a time. There’s an alternative link here, and Debenhams has a sale on until Sunday…
I like the hinged lid (no more lid-falling-into-cup incidents, hurrah!) and huge range of colours of this Stump teapot (alternative link). The problem with teapots is that by the time I get to the second cup it’s horribly stewed, but this pot has a removable filter. Put your leaves or teabags in the basket to brew, then just hoik it out when your tea’s ready. Not On The High Street (brilliant place to look for presents, btw) sells a gift set with this teapot and a tin of strong, malty loose-leaf tea. Yum.
This Brown Betty-style teapot is more traditional but still has that useful basket. If you love tea but think that loose-leaf is a faff, give one of these pots a try with something unusual like a white peony tea (alternative link – the Canton Tea Co is well worth a look if you like loose tea), or get a couple of single-origin loose teas from the supermarket and play with brewing to really taste the differences between varieties.
Some people can write with random background music, but a lot of us like to have either music or complete silence, and a half-decent pair of headphones can help enormously.
I do wear headphones without music sometimes to muffle outside noise, but for that (or if you just like having your ears cushioned) over-ear headphones might be better – I hear these Creative Aurvanas (alternative link) are very good for the price.
Most of us don’t want e-readers to replace books. But you should consider an e-reader as a useful bit of kit so you can see how other people will be reading your work (they’re pretty good for spotting mistakes as you read), but also for the ease/speed of access to books for general reading and research. I read more now that I have one, particularly when traveling, and they’re less awkward to hold in bed than a book.
Regular E-readers have matt screens that can be easily read in sunlight. They tend to have long battery life, are around the size and weight of a paperback, and are cheaper than tablets. They do one thing and do it well. I don’t think 3G is really worth paying for, but I’d pay more for one with a backlight or someday, like me, you’ll find yourself in a tent one night trying to read your fancy 21st century device by torchlight. So not cool.
The newer multimedia e-reader models will also allow you to do all sorts of fancy things like surf the internet, listen to music, make Skype calls, take pictures and watch films. Which type works for you just depends on what you want to do, how important battery life is, etc., but make sure it has what you want before buying (some tablet-style e-readers don’t have a camera for Skype, for example).
Essentially they are competing with tablet computers, but companies like Amazon sell their e-readers as loss-leaders knowing that you will then purchase your media from them in future, meaning they are cheaper presents.
Some e-readers are tied to suppliers, but more general tablets like the Google Nexus 7, the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy tablet aren’t – you’ll probably need to download apps from your chosen bookstores to read, but you’ll have more freedom if being tied to one provider is a problem for you..
Of course, if you don’t have a decent computer with enough power to write on you might want to consider that before an e-reader or tablet, exciting though they are.
It’s research! You can get book vouchers from Amazon, and National Book Tokens are accepted at major chains like WH Smith and Waterstones as well as many independents. If you have a local independent bookshop please buy a voucher directly from them instead though, because it’s book-loving folk like us who will keep little bookshops alive.
Time and space
Of course, none of these things are any good if the writing doesn’t actually get done. If you live near London I run one-day writing retreats in the city once or twice a month, and if you put in the recipient’s name and email address when you book I’ll do a little pdf voucher for you to give them. Take a look on the same page for one day retreats in Somerset and any others I hear about too.
I’m also running another week-long residential retreat in Devon in March, which you can take as a 3 or 6 night break. Because December is a difficult month financially speaking, I’m taking deposits now and collecting the rest in January so you can ask friends and family to donate money towards your retreat for Christmas. It’ll be easiest if they give the money to you, but I can also take direct donations (just email me for info).
If you want to get the year off on the right foot, the Assynt Foundation are running a writing retreat in Scotland in from 7-11thJanuary. It costs £325-425 depending on room choice, but you need to confirm your place by 17th December. There’s also Deborah at Retreats For You, the Fielding Programme at Cove Park and Arvon for writing retreats in the UK, or you could try places like La Muse Inn in France and Vivienne Neale in Portugal. There are plenty of retreats in Europe, some with yoga or creative writing tutorials.
Got more useful presents I’ve missed? Just post them in the comments below.