On the face of it, the title "when to do it" seems a bit silly. You would easily suppose that you do it when you want, but no you don't! You do it when you are in a position to do it—which is not always when you would very much like to do it. Pencil Reading is governed by conditions—and without the favourable condition you cannot afford to try it. As you will see, it involves a chance of failure and if you should be unwise enough to attempt it under unfavourable conditions, you naturally increase the chance of failure and must blame it on what amounts to nothing less than your bad judgement. I propose to analyse the favourable and unfavourable conditions in order to keep your chances of failure to a minimum.

Favourable Conditions:

When you are performing at close quarters with the audience. At home, in the drawing room, etc.

When you have an excuse to hand the spectator a pencil to use—because we have a special type of pencil that makes it all much more certain. When you have an excuse to hand the spectator the right type of card to write on—because we have a special card which helps. When the spectator is seated and you are standing. When the spectator and audience have no indication whatsoever of the effect they are to expect—and when the writing of the word seems to be the least important part of the proceedings.

When you can get at least four to five feet away from the spectator whilst he writes—making it clear that you do not see what he is writing, or so it would seem.

When you are sufficiently practised to be in a position to try it.

Unfavourable Conditions:

. When the spectator is so near to you—that there may be a good reason to suspect you saw what he wrote.

When he is so far away—you cannot see the pencil used in writing. When there is a mirror behind the spectator (goodness knows why, but many people wrongly suppose that every mentalist is quite capable of reading in the mirror).

When the spectator uses the wrong type of pencil or pen and writes on something which screens the pencil from view (i.e. rests on a large book).

When the spectator is standing. When the audience, or the spectator suspects or anticipates that the writing is of the greatest importance to the effect. When you are not practised enough to inflict your immature skill on the public.

Having propounded various "when's" and "when not's" I feel 1 should add that you are not obliged to wait for favourable conditions to occur— although they do very often—thank goodness! You can make them. If you have a large audience and you would not be able to see someone write if they stood up in the back row—you can bring them on to the stage, seat them down (favourable position) out of "politeness"—hand them your pencil—out of "courtesy" and give them the card for "convenience". All very satisfactory steps to getting the favourable condition and everybody will conclude you are a very nice chap for making your assistant comfortable and seeing that you have your equipment at the ready! Which prompts me to slip in here that a golden rule of mentalism is to be natural—and you have just accomplished a hell of a lot in a natural manner. After all, instead of seating the spectator, you could stand on a chair yourself to achieve the height difference, and instead of bringing him on to the stage, you could use a telescope to watch his pencil—this gentlemen would be unnatural!

To summarise the position of "when to do it". If the favourable conditions are existent, do it. If they are not and you can change them—change them. If you cannot change unfavourable conditions—don't do it.

(2) The Pencil used for writing

Let's start with the best and work down to the worst. The very best pencil for experiments and performance is undoubtedly what is called a Carbon Drawing pencil (the grade HB made by Wolff's I find entirely satisfactory). You will have to use this pencil to realise why it is so good, and yet the way in which it helps you immensely—is not obvious. The carbon drawing pencil has no lead—in place it has a thick black carbon centre. It writes a good thick black on white paper but this is the important part, being carbon it drags considerably on the surface of the paper and it is virtually impossible to write quickly with this pencil. I claim full rights for this discovery which to my mind alters Pencil Reading from a risky dodge to a reliable principle. When you hand a pencil to someone and tell them to write a number, you have no idea (most of the time) how quickly they will write their number. No matter how good at the Art you maybe, the quicker they write—the harder it is to read. Slowing down the writing by such subtle means gives* you an enormous advantage over the average worker. It is one of these quiet simple little secrets that make all the difference between success and failure—and as the reader you have a right to know—but join me and keep it quiet.

The carbon drawing pencil maybe obtained quite cheaply from any good shop which supplies artists materials. It looks like an ordinary pencil in every respect and having used it for the purpose of pencil reading, I have never yet had a comment from the one person who may realise it is not ordinary lead. The rest of the audience should never know. In two minutes you will be able to think up ten good excuses should you ever get a query— I do not make excuses!

The size of the pencil is the next thing to consider. After quite a bit of trial and error, I find that a pencil five inches long is most suitable. It is a bit tricky .deciding what is best; if you have it very short, almost a stub, you get much more hand movement—which helps a lot—BUT the pencil itself may become screened from view. If you have it full size, normally six-and-a-half inches long—you are almost sure to see the pencil—but not so sure to see hand movement which is restricted. The answer is to meet it halfway; five inches may be regarded as the optimum length.

Having read this, you will appreciate that if you allow the spectator to take out his pen or pencil—you involve the chance of failure because he may well come out of his pocket with a pencil some two inches long. On the other hand, having practiced pencil reading (and pen) with a five-inch pencil you have at least trained yourself to read the most probable length of pencil that may be procured at random. Have a look in Woolworths and see how many ball pens which are commonly used—are about five inches long, then you will appreciate what 1 mean.

If you are an expert, within reason any writing appliance used by the public can be "read" by you. However, faced with a degree of uncertainty during an important reading, the expert will resort to the safety checks I recommend in section (5) of Pencil Reading Technique, and eliminate the degree of uncertainty by a confirmation of fact process.

(3) The Card used when writing is done

I am taking trouble to give you these painstaking details because you can take my word for it that a lot of headaches can be avoided by doing the right thing. When you have the chance you should hand the spectator a card to write on. This card should be thick enough to remove the necessity of resting on anything else whilst writing. You could not hand a sheet of paper to a spectator and expect them to write on it without resting on something. The size of the card is very important since it may well screen the pencil from view if it is too large. The maximum size should be postcard size and from that you may work down to a normal visiting card. You will find the spectator invariably rests the visiting card in the palm of their hand—but the pencil remains clearly in view.

The alternative is to use paper BUT restrict the size or better, the danger of screening, by providing a rest for the spectator. Suppose you do not have a card with you and you want to pencil read. Tear a piece of paper into a piece about 4x3" in size—THEN pick up something small for a rest and hand it to the spectator. Your wallet is about the right size—BUT your wallet or anything similar suggest a carbon impression apparatus—so preferably select something like a small book from their bookshelf; their wallet, their cigarette packet etc. In any event, do not approach the resting apparatus when you have no need to do so.

(4) The Distance between you and the spectator

Here again it is a matter of proficiency and discretion. It should be obvious that the further away you are from the sj>ectator who wiites, the better it looks and the harder it is to do. Once you get the hang of it, you will amaze yourself that from some twenty feet away you can pencil read. I work more or less according to conditions, but when I have the choice I prefer a distance often to twelve feet away from the writer. You will also find that it is much easier to pencil read when the spectator is facing you—although you can do it from a side-on view.

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