Learning to Write: Times Past


© irene waters 2018

Following a fiction piece I did for Charli over at Carrot Ranch with the prompt ‘blot’ my piece mentioned a copybook. I was surprised by the number of people who had not heard of a copy book. I asked my Silent Generation husband whether he’d used a copybook but although he had heard of them, he too didn’t know what they were nor had he used one. Perhaps Australia was the only country to retain such a thing into the 1970’s at least.


copybook courtesy wikipedia

A comment from Charli suggested that it would be interested to hear how we learnt to write, where we learnt to write and whether this was different between generations and locations. Some writing can be an art form whilst others are illegible. Is it in how we learnt our writing skills?

Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and  your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.

Baby Boomer:  small rural town Australia

I do not recall knowing how to write when I started school and lessons in writing only commenced in the first grade. Kindergarten was exempt from formal activities but we probably started to learn the alphabet and we certainly played shop, learning to count.

Our first writing lessons were done with a pencil. We had to have a HB pencil and we printed our letters. Writing seemed synonymous with increasing our word bank. It wasn’t until we were in grade 4 that running writing lessons began. The form used was modern cursive. This was different to the copperplate that had gone before it but it was no easier to get perfect. It had to have a particular slope and the early books also had lines marking the correct angle. Writing became a subject on its own like social studies. For an hour at a time we would work at perfecting our script. We were given copy books and had to painstakingly copy the sentence on the top of the page over and over. Knuckles were rapped for untidiness and incorrect holding of the pen. Ink blots were a no no.

This was where I fell down. I was blessed I wasn’t a left hander (they were forced to write with their right hand and got into dreadful trouble for both messyness and disobedience)  but my technique was seen to be just as heinous. I was right handed but I gripped the pen with two fingers on the shaft and my thumb wrapped around them both. The first joint of my hand went backwards so it lay along the pen shaft and the joint behind raised like a mountain. My teacher pleaded, yelled, slapped, put me outside the room but to this day my pen holding style remains unchanged. My writing was a little more legible then that it is now.

We were right on the cusp of ink and quill and the coming of the BIC biro. I was relieved when we changed to biro in my sixth class as the ink got everywhere but for many years one of my prize possessions was a Parker fountain pen.

And that was how I learnt to write. What do you remember about your writing experience or your childrens? Perhaps they learnt earlier or perhaps typing on a computer is replacing writing.  I’m looking forward to reading  your memories…….

For those interested in memoir I am doing a series on the second Friday of the month some musings about memoir, about writing one, things to consider when writing a memoir over at Carrot Ranch. I’d love you to join the conversation. And talking of conversation – if I am tardy this month in my response to you please forgive me as I am going to be out of internet range for most of the month as I cruise the high seas. I look forward to the conversation and your memories on my return.

Baby Boomer UK Northern England



About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
This entry was posted in Historical Perspective, Memoir, Past Challenge, Times Past and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Learning to Write: Times Past

  1. calmkate says:

    like you I did printing with a HD pencil, learnt modern cursive style but never heard of copy books! My biggest gripe with the ink wells was that the boy behind me like to stick my extremely long plaits into them and it was very painful to scrub the ink stains from my hair! I was a very neat writer so had no horrid experiences like you … shame my writing is no where near as neat now. But I can be neat if I make an effort 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch – I wonder whether the nasty little boy is now a delightful adult. You were lucky. I was good at spelling and composition but my writing always let me down. Now it is illegible (even to me). I wonder if we were the only people to have copy books. I had a very old teacher and we were in the backwoods although the script in it was modern cursive so who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We practiced cursive every day for two years.
    I’ve heard that today’s kids aren’t even being taught cursive as so much of what they write is on computer. My two older grands write beautifully and they picked it up quickly. There’s too much to learn to devote hours and hours to perfect slants and evenly marked tops. I’d rather kids had much more time for creative endeavors – painting, dancing, acting, singing, writing poetry, running through the woods, playing an instrument.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think we were taught to be uniform in style which was one way of knocking creativity out of you. I think a bit of laxity is good but I do fear that wtihout learning to write it is only a matter of time before being able to do so is a skill of the past. Some writing is so artistic I enjoy looking at it. My writing is difficult to understand and as the arthritis gets the hands it becomes so difficult to do as well. Your two older grandchildren may have your artistic talent . Running through the woods sounds wonderful. You’ve put me in mind of Pan.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Charli Mills says:

    This is a topic I look forward to learning more from the past experiences of others. Hand-writing often comes up in modern debates over its future. Recently I’ve begun to feel satisfied with signing my digital receipts by finger. I said something to a young cashier who told me just makes a line. I felt like it was a moment of watching the demise of cursive!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Work of Memoir « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  5. Jules says:

    I don’t remember how I learned to write. Too many schools in a short childhood. But I like cursive. Though I never seem to have the same slant twice. So I don’t know what those who study handwriting would say. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Work of Memoir | ShiftnShake

  7. Irene I know you are on the high seas but my response is lengthy as well as late so here is a link.
    Ps, I am enjoying your essays over at the Ranch.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Irene, I hope you’re having a wonderful time! ‘Blotting your copybook’ is an expression my mother often uses. I had never given it much thought so far as what an actual copybook is, and pretty sure I didn’t write in one at school as I’m sure I would remember, but I will ask her and get back to you with her response! Once again, we share similar experiences though so far as the HB pencils and the glorious Parker fountain pens! I remember my cursive handwriting lessons very well and loved them. The rebel in me makes me glad you stuck to your writing style Irene 😉 Love the letter extract too…I would have loved to have been at that dinner party 🙂 Looking forward to returning with my post. Meanwhile, happy sailing my friend! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sherri. Home today after great time but feeling a few degrees under. It would be great to hear how your Mother learnt compared to you. That would show changes in the UK over a generation. I think the UK and Australia are very similar in most regards up until maybe the 70s with the advent of television and exposure to America. Bit by bit we have altered but when we went to school we were still very much the British way of doing things. Look forward to hearing from you. Walk soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Welcome home Irene! So glad you had a great time, but sorry to hear you’re under the weather. I often find that after a holiday strangely. Can’t wait to read all about it. Yes, I’m looking forward to writing this post, all being well – ha! -by the end of the week. The 70’s changed things greatly it seems. When I first went to Los Angeles with my American GI, in 1979, I couldn’t believe the difference: sixteen year old high school students driving cars their parents had given them, for one thing! Unheard of Britain! As for the writing, the styles are still very different. My eldest son’s style is still very American, but the other two write more British, for instance, they cross their t’s instead of writing it like an actual cross as Americans, and my eldest, do. Hope you feel better soon my friend and then we will walk! 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the welcome Sherri. It is good to be home. Nowhere I’d prefer to be unwell than home. I find your comment about t’s fascinating. I wonder if we are all becoming closer to the middle and losing our national identity as a result or whether those differences are just as apparent now to someone who may be doing what you did all that time ago. Love to walk and talk about it. 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, but get well soon Irene. I wonder too about the loss of national identity. Kids here use Americanisms much more than they ever did when I was growing up. Back in the late 70’s, my life in American was alien to the life I lived in the UK. But today? Not so sure. Really is fascinating…we need to keep walking and talking! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I think as we all move more, television is commonplace as is the internet we are losing our individual national identities and becoming more homogenous a society. That I feel is good but there is also a negative aspect to it. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad. Yes it is lovely being back walking and talking with you. 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hope so too Irene. I’m slipping behind a bit again already, got caught in the blizzard last week and ended up stranded and having to book into a b&B for a couple of days which set me right back. Main thing is hubby and I were safe as we were very close to spending the night in our car on a road covered in ice and snow. Long story…but swapping my snow boots for my usual to get back to walking and talking in more inclement conditions and catch up this week once again. I’m trying to finish up my guest post for the Ranch for tomorrow and also my anthology book tour post is due next Monday which I need to write and my family is arriving Thursday for a birthday/mother’s day celebration this weekend, so the post I wanted to get out late last week and now this week for your writing prompt isn’t going to happen now sadly 😦 Is it too late for next week?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well it sounds like you have good reason to slip behind Sherri. Glad you weren’t stuck in the car. Perhaps everyone over there had better ensure that they stock the car with blankets and provisions so if stuck you don’t freeze to death. Walking on grass sounds a much better idea. If you want to do it – it is never too late but if you want to give yourself some breathing space I understand if you let the cursive slide away. Lots of love Irene.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much Irene, I really do want to still do it and will endeavour to next week and really appreciate your understanding, as I knew you would 🙂 Yes, and you would be very proud as that is precisely what we did, stocked up even so far as with a spade! We would have survived the night, but we wouldn’t have gone out at all if not for attending a funeral sadly of a very dear friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly only 69. I knew her 34 years and was asked to write and read a tribute to her. So I had to be there and hubby took the day off to go with me, for which I was so grateful. We hoped to beat the blizzard, but it came in too fast, and we, like so many got caught. All main roads to our hometown, never mind side roads, were cut off. Despite the red alert warning, so many people were out in it…and I do wonder how many were prepared. Not many, I suspect. We have a joke in our family about taking the spade and a blanket as my mother always used to tell me to, harking back to her days of travel when they would have been necessary far more often. I laughed, but this time I didn’t! I think we will all pay better attention to any such warnings next time. All thawed out now and it is posivitely spring like today. Crazy. I haven’t had a chance to see if your holiday pics are up yet, but I will be back asap once I’ve caught up a bit. Thank you again so much for your patience with me my friend. Never a dull moment, eh? I can’t wait to hear about your hols…and hope you’re feeling much better now. Let’s walk on that soft, green grass soon, okay? 🙂 Lots of love ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry to hear of your friend’s passing. Thirty four years is a long time to have a friendship and I know the hole it will leave in your life having lost my school friend ten years ago now. Funny though, I know Annie is still with me and living in my heart as your friend will with you. I always see similarities – Annies funeral held in Wellington NZ occurred at the same time as the Christchurch earthquakes and as she lived in the South Island many of her friends were unable to get to the funeral. The severe weather probably stopped many from going to your friend’s funeral as well. Good on you for making the effort, and to your hubby for not letting you go alone and for going prepared. I wouldn’t have thought of the shovel.
        Bit by bit holiday pics are being put up. One here, a few there, a couple of stories. Just skim when you have time and I look forward to your writing memories – when you have caught up. There is never any rush here. I like an amble rather than a power walk. Lots of love….

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aww, I am so sorry about the sad loss of your dear friend Annie. I do feel the same with Margaret, in my heart, and know she will always be there as with your Annie. Remembered always. And goodness, what similarities we share once again! I remember the Christchurch earthquakes, long before I knew you…I would have been very worried about you going, but we do what we need to do when at all possible. And yes, many were unable to make Margaret’s funeral. The very day of the worst snow storm and frigid weather in years…crazy. Ha…the shovel was a good idea, and hubby did use it the morning we tried to leave the car park of the B&B! I will definitely catch up with you here next week Irene. Once I’ve got my book tour post up Monday I’ll be able to settle into preparing my Times Past post and visit you, as I am so keen to see your pics and read your stories. And amble sounds wonderful… I’m too tired for a power walk! Thank you again my lovely friend. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week! Lots of love 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have to start thinking about my post for the book as well. Good luck with it and have a lovely weekend. I’m going to have a very quiet one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Irene, and thank you, a lovely weekend it was and hope you benefited from your quiet one 🙂 Now the kids all gone home but I am sooo behind, only just got my book post up at 6pm my time 😦 Truly better late than never though…phew. And now to start work on your writing post, which I’ve already written in my head lol. See you soon my friend, get read for our walk! 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Looking forward to it Sherri. Perhaps things will settle down again now. Looking forward to walking with you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Let’s hope so Irene…see you very shortly!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Learning to Write « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  10. Pingback: Learning to write – Times past – Robbie's inspiration

  11. Hi Irene, I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday. Here is my contribution to this challenge: https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/learning-to-write-times-past/

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My experience was like yours, Irene, right down to the loved Parker fountain pen. (rural, Victoria) As to copy books, I have a vague memory of a ruled book with a dark green cover – landscape orientation. We copied the sentence from the blackboard, though, I think. I was fortunate I had a neat hand, and an desire to please.

    I do hope you are having fun on the high seas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Christine. Returned today after a good holiday although now feeling a few degrees below. Once the room stops rocking I’ll be fine. You have a better memory than me – I wouldn’t have a clue what colour the book was but it certainly was landscape orientation. NSW and Victoria were probably quite similar in those days. Qld I think was somewhat different but as I didn’t go to school there I can’t be 100% certain.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. susansleggs says:

    As a baby-boomer in a rural central school in western New York state we learned to write cursive using fat green pencils with no eraser. The teacher would hand out a lined piece of paper with the letter on it and we were to make copies of it, but the lines were probably half an inch apart, two solid with a dotted in between to total an inch.. The lines were so we could form the letter with the correct size “heads and tails.” That means make the top of the h all the way up to the top line. It sounds good in theory, but trying to form the letters huge, didn’t translate to forming them the natural writing size once I learned the shapes. I never could make a perfect circle for an o and still don’t. My cursive is scrawly, uneven, and as we say, “Looks like a doctors signature.”
    I do remember one girl who always got A’s made her letters with all sorts of fancy add-ons. It used to infuriate me that she would get such good marks when to me her writing was just as bad as mine, just in a different way.
    I like to use the computer now even if I am writing a personal note that way I know the recipient will be able to read my thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susan I had to laugh at your description of fat green pencil and huge oversize letters that you could never condense to the right size.I don’t recall that we did it oversize but perhaps when we started we did. I’m with you – mine is like a doctors signature and those that managed to do it incorrectly but prettily got away with it far easier than we did. The arthritis in the hands has made computer writing choice as well. Not only for those who read it but so I can read it myself. Thanks for adding to the mix.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Learning to Write -memoir – Susan Sleggs

  15. Pingback: Scribbling | TanGental

  16. Hello Irene, at last I’ve got my post out. I hope you don’t mind that I included it in an update post. I will get to your tree post too as soon as I can, I love your memoir prompts! I will be back tomorrow as I want to find your holiday pics…let’s walk! ❤ https://sherrimatthewsblog.com/2018/03/19/fire-and-ice-and-somerset-gin/

    Liked by 1 person

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