Saturday, 30 August 2014

Philip Heshner: Handwriting

By Tenaya Laird

The eccentric, funny and distinctly English Philip Hensher stepped on stage. Immediately the crowd of (seemingly) older women roared their approval. His humour spans generations. This session, on the topic of handwriting, had me feeling a little apprehensive: how could one man spend an hour discussing handwriting? But Hensher did it, and he made it interesting too!

Phil Hensher was prompted to write his book The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting (the subject of discussion during this session) when he discovered, to his shame, that he did not know what a close friend’s handwriting looked like.

He described handwriting as “immediate, sensual and individual.” Explaining that you cannot stop your emotions from displaying in your handwriting, as it is “so much of who you are.” Even though his sister has atrocious handwriting, he is still happy when receives a post card from her because immediately he knows who it is from.

He was pressed, by session host David Astle, about his teaching and he explained that he makes all of his students write their creative journals by hand. Regardless of their grumbling, he persists that handwriting is a better way, than working at a computer, to get the creative juices flowing.

He spoke of a student who passed away after handing in her creative journal and that when he returned the journal to her parents they were incredibly thankful as they did not have anything with her handwriting, only text messages, and that the stories were so full of her, her ideas and imagination, it was something they would never have had otherwise. He also added that the loss of a student was “one of the worst things that had happened” to him as a teacher. Reminding us that as much as he is this grand person and brilliant author, he is also human.

Philip also discussed his "12 observations and prejudices", which included the notion that people who underline their signatures, such as he does, clearly think they are rather important. The biggest prejudice/pet hate he has, though, is people who put love hearts over the letter “I” when writing.

The conversation then turned to “Graphology” a pseudo-science Hensher has spent a lot of time studying . Although making no claims to being an expert in the field, he did provide us with some insight as to how the process works. Sent copies of handwriting by famous figures, he analyses them and invites the audience to volunteer their opinion as to who the handwriting belonged to.

He showed us a couple of examples.

The first was from someone who employed enormous loops in the writing of the letter “y”and whose handwriting was without pattern. A member of the audience nominated Lady Gaga. Correct!

The second example was clearly that of an elderly person. The large spaces between words apparently indicate the person is self conscious and withdrawn from the world around them. The high lettering indicates they are incredibly spiritual. Another audience member correctly guessed it belonged to Her Majesty the Queen.

It seems to me that Graphology is essentially the art of guessing someone’s character from his or her handwriting alone.

Hensher encouraged members of the audience to bring samples of their handwriting up for analysis. The first was from an audience member who felt that their handwriting had become messy and illegible as a result of a stroke. Hensher assured them he had no issue reading their handwriting, and that it was very lovely characteristic handwriting.

The last ten minutes of the session was reserved for audience questions. When asked if the career of forensic graphology had ever interested him, Hensher said that he had not and that it had a terrible reputation as a profiling tool, however it was incredibly useful for forgery. A concerned mother remarked that she was worried for her son who has been told he must write all his end of year exams by hand. Hensher assured her that her son would not be the only one with issues and encouraged a “technology free day of the week” and to write a page a day in order to help get into the habit.

When I approached him at the end of his session to get my copy of King of the Badger signed, he told me to “Be Savage!” But I couldn’t. His session was warm, fluffy, funny and so engaging, exactly as he himself is.

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