Friday, October 14, 2005


This morning I found, in a local charity shop, this old Petite typewriter for children for only £0.99p. No ribbon but the stationers across the road soon provided a reel for an adult typewriter which did the job, if a little inconsistently. The kids were delighted with it. My youngest, seen hard at work here, particularly so. Her late grandmother was a prolific best-selling novelist; there’s more than a chip off the old block in her enthusiastic typing, tip of the tongue protruding.

Watching them hammer the keys took me back to my own first typewriter, not a plastic job like this one but a bona fide too-heavy-to-move manual typewriter; a battered hand-me-down with the letter ‘s’ missing on which I wrote my first novel, a kids’ fantasy which ran to about 20,000 words, the story of a caveboy who time-travels to a present day seaside resort and is befriended by a local girl who thinks he’s French. Written from the boy’s point of view, it was a similar challenge to the one Craig Raine faced when writing his Martian poetry. How to explain the sighting of a car from the point of view of someone who has not only never seen one before, but doesn’t even understand the concept of the wheel? Then there was the memorable scene where she introduces him to the traditional fish and chip supper, eaten out of newspaper on the seafront. Fantastic. I lost the manuscript long ago but I can still remember that book in some detail, I sweated over it long enough. I would have been about twelve years old at the time.

I work on a Mac now - is there anyone out there who still uses a typewriter? - but even now, the feeling’s the same. Whenever that blank document comes up on the computer screen, I’m straight back there, at that sticky-fingered toddler stage where you just feel compelled to fill up the white spaces, to leave your mark there, to create something, anything, where there was nothing.

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