IS the writing on the wall for pen and ink? A leading author has warned that handwriting could “go the way of Latin and Greek” and be “lost within a generation”, following news that a major exams board was set to trial digital exams at dozens of schools.

Colm Toibin, famous for novels such as Brooklyn and The Testament Of Mary, said that “it would be a huge loss if [handwriting] were to go”, and called learning to write an “identity-forming business”.

AQA, the largest exams board south of the Border, announced last week that it was trialling online exams at 60 to 100 schools this summer. If successful, the programme would be rolled out across most subjects, although Colin Hughes, the chief executive of AQA, said that the board would keep some written exams to protect handwriting from dying out.

He also claimed that online exams would be much greener than shipping millions of exam papers around the country before collecting them all again to digitise them.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Tobin suggested that opting for convenience could kill off handwriting and its esoteric charms.

“If you began to say everything would be much more efficient on a laptop, [handwriting] would go eventually, it would within a generation, almost disappear,” he said, adding: “It goes the way of Latin and Greek.”

He also lamented the loss of handwriting as a marker of identity, adding: “You would know when a letter came from someone, oh that’s from Auntie so-and-so, that’s her handwriting.”

Asked about his own writing habits, Tobin said he wrote all his own novels in longhand form.

In contrast, recent research has found that much of the general public has almost no need to put pen to paper.

I confess, I am among this number. In my defence, my handwriting is so untidy that typing is a bonus for all concerned. When I had to learn shorthand – a long and painful process for both me and the monumentally patient Mrs Towers – I was somewhat disadvantaged, given there seemed to be little visual difference between my longhand and my Teeline.

Meanwhile, I’m still recovering from the trauma of writing Christmas cards and trying really hard to make them legible.

I do take hand-written notes when I’m working … but only ever in pencil. By the end of the week, my desk is covered in little bits of rubber, such is my propensity for changing my mind. I can’t imagine ever graduating to pen and ink, which makes activities such has card writing all the more scary.

And if cheques ever made a resurgence as the only way of making payments, I’m not convinced I’d remember how to sign my name.

For all the Toibin’s despondency, however, there are some signs that the public shares his affection for handwriting. In 2019, when the British Museum put on an exhibition on writing, it asked visitors how they expected to send a birthday card in 2069. The top answer: a handwritten card.

So I’ll persevere with the Christmas cards. Next year, however, I might admit defeat and use a pencil.