|Tom Hanks with a non clacking laptop.|
I learned to type in the 1960s when I was five, as part of an experimental literacy programme at my infant school. I've no idea how successful the experiment was, but the fact that it was a one-off suggests that it wasn't groundbreaking. And ever since then, I have kind of loved typing and its ritual of mental and physical progress, of getting thoughts on paper.
I won a writing competition when I was 26 and the prize was a manual typewriter, an Olivetti, the symbol of Being An Author. But it was rather small and flimsy. When I decided to get down to it and really write, I used a retired golf ball typewriter my office was throwing out. It was more like a combine harvester than a mere typewriter,and took up nearly the whole desk in my bedroom in Brixton. (I lived in a house which was like something in an early Woody Allen movie, with trains passing so thunderously that the whole building trembled.) I fed paper into the typemonster and tapped away on the QWERTY keyboard, watching my words clack into reality, looking ordered and serious, even when they were misspelled.(Which they frequently were.) When I needed to think, or sob with frustration, I would lean on the expansive keyboard. It was so large and flat you could have slept on it.
Now, like the rest of the world, I use a PC or a lap top, and my words are electronic, trapped in an glaring white screen which seems to have its own reality, its own authority. To escape, I often write in hand, in notebooks or on lined A4 pads which remind me of being at school. But my handwriting is sometimes hard to read back, particularly when I am in the throes of creativity (or delusion). So recently, I have been thinking it would be good to use a typewriter again. It seems to offer a half way house between the privacy and informality of a notebook and the misleading polish of a computer draft.
Will Self uses a typewriter, and waxes lyrical about it - here is an extract from an article he wrote for the Times in 2012:
“I switched to working on a manual typewriter in 2004 (all my previous books had been composed either on an Amstrad word processor or more sophisticated computers), because I could see which way the electronic wind was blowing: dial-up internet connections were being replaced by wireless broadband, and it was becoming possible to find yourself seriously distracted by the to and fro between email, web surfing, buying reindeer-hide oven gloves you really didn’t need — or possibly even looking at films of people doing obscene things with reindeer-hide oven gloves. The polymorphous perversity of the burgeoning web world, as a creator of fictions, seriously worried me — I could see it becoming the most monstrous displacement activity of all time.”
|Mr Self in his low tech heaven. (The Times)|
He is absolutely right, of course. The virtual world is populated with distraction junkies, and that includes writers.
There is a whole world of typewriter obsessives out there - maybe we will see a rebirth of the clanketty typewriter as opposed to the bland computer keyboard? There is no romance in PCs or laptops, though I know Mac users will disagree with me. Here are some photos from the excellent blog The Classic Typewriter Page.
|Patricia Highsmith. This is the way to do it. Attitude.|
|Apparently Ian Fleming had a gold typewriter. Impressively languid pose here.|
|How cool is the young Arthur Miller?|
|Francoise Sagan, probably brooding about l'amour.|