John Summers


Interview with Howard Spring

by John Summers, published in the Sun, 20 February 1965 (just a couple of months before Howard Spring's death from a stroke) under the headline ‘The chewed-up old pen that made Mr Spring a packet’

‘This is the secret,’ says Howard Spring, holding aloft an ordinary wooden pen; cheap, chewed, the ink-spluttering kind you see littering Post Office counters. ‘The perfect aid for writing a best-seller. I bought it to write my first book, Shabby Tiger, and I’ve used it for every single novel since.

‘I’d be lost without it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I never wrote another novel if I didn’t have this pen.’

Howard Spring’s latest book, Winds of the Day, produced by the same old tuppenny wooden pen, this week appears high in the best-seller lists.

‘The secret is the utter simplicity of the thing. Just look at it.’ Mr Spring held his tuppenny pen lovingly between his fingers. ‘No mechanical rubbish about it at all. When I start writing a novel it’s a bond between me, the pen and the paper.

‘My formula is to sit down at my desk with my old pen in my hand. I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m going to write about, but as soon as I write Chapter One at the top of the page, I’m away.

‘Some 300 pages later I write The End, and that’s it. Situations, characters – they all come to me as I go along, as if flowing straight down through the wood of the old pen.’

At the top of the shaft, teeth marks show where Mr Spring has sat and chewed over the situations of his characters in famous novels like My Son, My Son, These Lovers Fled Away and Fame Is the Spur.

Everybody knows that the bars of Fleet Street’s pubs are awash with journalists threatening to quit their jobs tomorrow to sit down and write their own big best-seller.

Howard Spring is Fleet Street’s own legend as one of the very few who have made it.

‘I was something of a book reviewer in Fleet Street, but as soon as I heard my first book had hit the best-seller lists I just got up from my desk, packed my bags, grabbed my tuppenny pen and I was off.’

In the street outside he bumped into his employer, Lord Beaverbrook, who stopped him and drawled: ‘By golly, Mr Spring, you can’t only review good novels, you can write ‘em as well!’

Having a last drink in a crowded pub, Howard Spring found himself next to a stranger, who asked: ‘You heard of this Howard Spring feller who’s just written a best-seller? Do you think he’s going to last as a novelist?’

‘Well, I hope so,’ said Howard Spring, ‘because I know him slightly and he’s quite a nice chap.’

Howard Spring has certainly lasted. Down in his large and beautiful Georgian house in Cornwall, he held up the remarkable instrument that has helped him hold his place in the best-seller lists for the last thirty years.

‘I often think I owe all this to my dear old tuppenny wooden pen,’ he says.

‘All of it.’ He waved an arm to the splendidly landscaped acres of his home.

‘I remember the day I went to the shop and bought the pen. I never imagined what a change it would make in my life. I never really had any confidence that I would be able to earn a living as a writer, you know.’

Around him the walls of his library, ranged with editions in all languages of the famous Howard Spring novels that have sold by the million and are still running to 100,000-a-time reprints.

‘I never want anything but this little old wooden pen of mine to go on writing novels with. No gimmicky things like typewriters or tape recorders for me.’

The pen, like Mr Spring, is tough, brown and only lightly scarred from the production of a score of famous novels.

‘If I lost it now it would be a complete disaster. Matter of fact, I did lose it a while ago. Could not find it on my work desk. I was thunderstruck. I thought – that’s it! That’s really The End. Then it turned up, delivered by the postman next morning. By mistake I had wrapped it up with the manuscript of my last novel and sent it off in the mail.

‘As long as I’ve got my little tuppenny wooden pen, I can see myself going on producing novels for ever and ever.’