The joy of…typewriters

When I was 11 years old I started secondary school. Okay, it was a year of many changes in my life, some traumatic, some exciting, but most were life-altering.

It was 1985 (yes, I really am that old), I had turned 11 in the February, and my dad had been sick with leukaemia for almost 10 months. In the April, after only just turning 34, he passed away and with him went a lot of the joy of being a daddy’s girl! I pretty much vanished into myself, I have never (no matter how much I try) been that close to my mum, so it was a massive loss and one that still affects me somewhat to this day.

Anyway, back to the story. It was 1985, we had just spent a fortnight (with my mum’s new boyfriend – don’t ask) travelling through Switzerland with my maternal aunt, and when we returned I realised that with the rest of the summer to go I needed something to occupy my time.

That summer I discovered a case in the cupboard under the stairs, it was covered in dust and I had never seen it before and, with the curiosity of youth, I used a screwdriver to prise the lock open (it was a little bit rusty) and inside was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, a silver/grey Olympia S2 typewriter with black and red ribbon. The machine barely looked used though after visiting the library, and speaking with my grandmother, I discovered it was older than my mum (of course, her being 30 at the time, that was hardly ancient).

With a new purpose in mind, I took the typewriter up to my bedroom, placed it on my bed (not the best place to type, the reverb is hard on the wrists) and started to write. At first it was just short stories about my holiday to Switzerland, then I delved into the realms of fantasy, with fairies and pixies that fought and had poisonous bites.

Fast forward a few years, to the autumn before I took my GCSE options, and I was feeling ancient at the age of 13, I discovered the work of Liz Berry and sank into the world of lust-driven rock stars and the innocent young girls who fell in love with them. Out of my fascination with a storyline that I now realise was fraught with incredibly blatant non-con situations, and fresh from a holiday romance with a German boy called Dirk (whose photograph I still have, and he was beautiful), was borne Tobie Madden and Darryl Murphy. Nope, no idea where the names came from, but for over 100,000 words I managed to keep their unusual love story (complete with awkwardly written sex-scene) flowing, and when I’d finished with nearly 150 pages of single-spaced typing I felt as though I could conquer Mt Everest (actually, make that I felt as though I had conquered Mt Everest).

From that point onwards, any time I had some time and energy to spare I would be sitting on the pouf at the end of my bed, or on the floor of the downstairs toilet (it was one of the only places where people would leave me alone) listening to the click and quiet pfft as metal keys hit thin sheets of paper. That sound has, to this very day, been one that sends happy shivers up and down my spine; for me it’s a sound of achievement and accomplishment, a sound that shows I have actually got something as evidence of my hard work!

Fast forward to the week before my 16th birthday, and the disappearance of my trusty typewriter (okay, it wasn’t mine, but I had been using it almost solidly for nearly 5 years and I had written what I still consider to be works I am proud of producing – even if they are chronically embarrassing by my writing standards of today). On my birthday I was presented with an electric typewriter. I HATED IT! The stupid thing was noisy, it used ink cartridges as though they were going out of fashion, and to work also had to have a ‘delete’ cartridge. I spent all the money I earned at my babysitting and chippy jobs on keeping the thing running and it had more issues than my trusty Olympia SM2 had ever suffered. Within a year I had dumped the electric noise monster and acquired (okay, begged for) the typewriter that my grandmother kept at her place for the weekends when I stayed there, an Olivetti Lettera. It was nowhere near as lovely as my Olympia had been, but it was definitely more reliable than the electric thing.

It’s over 20 years since I last saw my Olympia, I still have incredibly fond memories of it, and even though time has moved on, and technology has definitely improved since the days of the black electric noise monster that my mum thought was better than something which was older than her. Right now I am sitting in a coffee shop using their WiFi and electricity rather than my own as I write this post about typewriters. For all that the modern age is fantastic, there is a lot to be said for the original tools, the original machines that time did not forget. Laptops reach end of life – a point where they can no longer be updated (my Surface has now reached this point, in fact it reached this point at about the same time Win10 was released), printer ink is expensive, and peripherals are another thing with multiple working parts. A typewriter, however, requires nothing more than oil to ensure the keys don’t stick, inked ribbons (I bought two for £9 including shipping), and paper (500 sheets for £3.50) and nothing more than the imagination (and light when it gets dark).

There is a lot to be said for having a typewriter; a lot of authors still use one to put together their first drafts (I use my second to put minor edits in place), and there is definitely something incredibly satisfying about seeing everything appear on a sheet of paper in front of you. I know that I can’t write my blog posts on it (seriously the day that those Querkywriter keyboards are released in the UK I am seriously contemplating getting one), but seeing the results of my hard work build into pages in a pile at my elbow is the most satisfying feeling on the planet (at least for a writer).

Thanks to Freecycle, a company in my local area that repairs and provides typewriters for movies (such as the recent Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and TV shows (like The Crown), and the local print shop, I now have a little office set up and the only thing between me and sitting down to write for hours at a time is the muse who refuses to stay for longer than five minutes at a time, and the fact that each key depress has my poor Darcy crying like she’s being tortured!

Until next time.

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