How to make a feather quill

During research for my time travel story set in the French Renaissance in the early 16th century, my fingers started itching to use a feather quill as my time-traveling protagonist did. I found some how-to websites and got started.

First, obviously, you need some nice feathers. I’ve been told the use of certain birds’ feathers may be forbidden in some countries, so please make sure you know where your feather comes from.

Other items you will need:

  • Soapy water and an old toothbrush or
  • Space in a freezer
  • A recipient big enough your feather fits completely in
  • Sand
  • An oven-proof recipient
  • A sharp knife, an x-acto knife or a cutter work best
  • A cutting board
  • Ink and paper

One internet source says to scrub them in soapy water (with an old toothbrush, for example). During a zoo visit, a bird keeper told me that leaving the feathers in the freezer for a day or two would kill off any vermin. (I left mine for two days, to be on the safe side.)

If you wash them, the next step is obviously letting them dry.

Then you shave off the fibers near the tip because once you dip your quill into the inkwell, you don’t want to have them dripping with ink.

Next you leave them in water overnight. The instructions say this makes them soft and easy to bend.

Again, you let them dry.

Heat sand in the oven to 350°F/175°C. Stick the feathers into the hot sand once you take it from the oven and leave them in there while the sand cools. This is supposed to harden the feather so you won’t have to resharpen it too often.

Now comes the trickiest part – cutting the tip into the right shape. Be warned, the feather is still surprisingly hard and cutting it in the shape you want will not be easy. Use a pen to trace the shape on the tip and then cut along your markings. This is more carving than cutting, actually. Once your nib has the right shape, you need to make a split at the center.

Now all you need is an inkwell, paper, and some practice. Look what my 10-year-old daughter did when I let her choose one of my feathers.

And to to round it off nicely, here’s some history:

In Europe, the feather replaced the reed pen for writing in the 6th century CE. The birds whose feathers were most commonly used besides the goose were raven, duck and grouse for fine writing, and vulture and eagle feathers for bold writing. The feather dominates writing in Europe through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Classical Period, until the invention of the metal-tip pen in the 19th century.

My web sources: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Quill-Pen-out-of-a-Feather and https://minervaspencer.com/how-to-make-a-quill-pen-the-real-way-and-also-the-cheaters-way/

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In defense of writing exercises

Why should I bother with writing exercises when I’m busy with my manuscript, you ask.
Exercises don’t just serve to learn a skill but also to maintain and improve it.
Let me draw an analogy with sports and take an example from swimming:

I go to swim practice 2-3 times a week on average and have done so for many years. When I do my main strokes (front crawl and back stroke), I no longer have to think about what I’m doing, not even during flip turns. (That’s when you reach the end of the pool and turn around as quickly as possible and push off the wall.) So it’s possible I get lazy and make sloppy moves. But when coach gives me drills to do, such as touching my shoulder with my hand at each stroke or close my fists, or breathe at changing numbers of strokes (3-5-7, for example), I have to concentrate on what I’m doing and focus on my strokes (arm strokes in these examples).

It is the same with writing—there are “moves” that you don’t think about until you’re forced to think about them by doing a writing exercise. As a result, you are more conscious about these particular “moves”.

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A comprehensive guide to world building (not by me)

I am not going to expound on world building because I can’t claim to be an expert. However, I would like to present the four-part article “The Challenge of Creating A Believable World” by writer Dina von Lowencraft (author of the YA fantasy DRAGON FIRE), as it is the most comprehensive I have come across so far. The article includes several lists of questions to guide your own world building:

Part One “The Physical World” goes over the basic building blocks of world building.

Part Two “The Inhabitants of Your World” takes a closer look at society and how it shapes its inhabitants.

Part Three “The Inherent Conflicts/Issues in Your World” explores different kinds of conflicts linked directly or indirectly to world building.

Part Four “Showing Your World” looks at different ways to show your world building in your story.

Please check out Dina’s book DRAGON FIRE on GoodReads

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Where do you find inspiration?

Sometimes my inspiration takes off and gallops full speed ahead without me doing anything, and this in the most ordinary situations. It makes for seemingly bizarre ideas, but once you build a story around them, the bizarreness fades into the background.

I sat at the back of a bus when the driver stopped, cut off the engine, and got off. A bit later, a new driver got on and drove the bus off. My transport-obsessed husband would explain how this stop was the point where drivers regularly switch duty. My writer mind however wondered what if that new driver wasn’t a RATP bus driver but [take your pick] a hijacker, a wizard, a time traveler wanting to try and drive a motorized vehicle?


A few years ago, there were still a few phone boxes around here, including in my street. One day that phone box was removed. I’ve heard people say, “No one but Superman will miss them”, but maybe someone does. What else besides a changing cabin for superheroes (or the visitor entrance to the Ministry for Magic) could a phone box be used for?

At my day job, I’ve been sitting on the health and safety committee for a few years now. One thing I learned during the training course was that employers have to pay employees for work-related injuries. Then I read pirate codes have similar provisions – pirates get payment for loss of a limb.
If there are such parallels between our modern working world and the centuries-ago pirate world, what kind of parallels could there be in a fantasy or sci-fi world?

A post a made on Twitter and its reply:

I was visiting the Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. In the lower chamber, where the MPs sit, the guide explained that the front benches are just a little more than 2 word-lengths apart, dating back to the days when men wore swords, to avoid that a debate in Parliament got too heated.

I read about a German law that requires that seals born in captivity may not be returned to the wild. How would that apply to humans in a dystopian setting?

As you see, inspiration can be found (pretty much) anywhere.

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