Interview for Pens! Paper! Pencils!

Michael Davidson

by Ian Hedley of Pens! Paper! Pencils!

SlimNote notebooks are rather lovely little notebooks, as I explained in my review. As well as being rather lovely little notebooks, they are, each and every one of them, carefully made by hand. This is a splendid thing and so, obviously, I wanted to find out more. Michael, one half of Tiny Toe Press, maker of SlimNote notebooks, was gracious enough to answer some questions I sent him.

This is a very interesting interview. Not only that but if you read to the end there is a chance to win a set of these splendid notebooks.

The most obvious first question is why go to so much trouble to make a notebook? The process you use is wonderful but incredibly time consuming. You say yourself it’s irrational…

After making notebooks in the morning for four hours straight on the kitchen table, the process makes me meditative. I play music while I carpenter notebooks. For long stretches of time I’m thinking about nothing else but making the right cut, or scoring a spine, or applying an even coat of glue. Only with mindfulness can I consistently make notebooks that look like a machine made them, almost. The next book I’m thinking of writing is “Zen in the Art of Notebook Making.”

I don’t know if I’ll always be willing to go through the trouble to make notebooks with just a ruler, box cutter, and glue. But at what point would it stop being handmade? At what point would it feel like a machine made it? When people use a SlimNote I would like them to know they’re using something that is human. If you look hard enough, our notebooks have discrete birthmarks that carry their own history. I don’t want them to stop being wabi-sabi.

As well as notebooks you also hand make books. How do you choose what you’re going to publish?

We get enough submissions at Tiny TOE Press to keep a few people busy reading, especially when you throw editing into the mix. What makes managing submissions interesting is not just the sheer amount of words you have to comb through, but the simple fact that among them there will inevitably be a few stories that should be published. I’ve had very good writers email me about taking back their submissions after more responsive publishers already accepted them.

As far as what I look for in a manuscript, I commit to the ones that make me want to keep reading. I don’t want to force myself to keep reading. A wide range of subjects appeal to me, from historical fiction to the new book coming out this Spring with aliens, “Rarity of the Century,” which is, according to its author, Fawzy Zablah, “a modern apocalyptic thriller told through different perspectives that begins as a coming-of-age story about a lonely young man looking for love but eventually turns into a more complex narrative about solitude and the never ending search for connection.” It’s really good, but don’t take my word for it.

Where did the idea for the hex series come from?

One morning I woke up to an email from someone in Austin who wanted to know if we could make a customized order of SlimNotes with hex paper for a friend of his who plays a lot of Civilization. I had never heard of hex paper, so I looked into it and discovered we could make hex notebooks. If you’re reading this, Alan, cheers.

What, for you, makes a good notebook?

A good notebook is sleek and reliable. You can carry it in your pockets or purses, the less conspicuous the better. Added bonus if the notebook also says something about you, which is why I take the business of customized orders very seriously.

What do you use your own SlimNote notebooks for?

Bridget uses The Kitchen Series to jot down recipes, and The Midas Series (each of which she paints by hand using gold acrylic) for to-do lists and sketching. I use a customized SlimNote with “unwind” stamped on the front to write sections of my new novel. I also use “The Fixie” to design ads for SlimNote, which I put on the internet, usually by just taking a picture of the actual page from the SlimNote with something quirky and/or persuasive written on it, like the one featured above.

Thank you so much Michael for taking the time to take part in this interview!