The Nostalgia of a Typewriter

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When I was a kid I started writing stories at about the age of 5 or 6. I'd take some A4 paper - sometimes lined, sometimes not - and fold the pages over in the middle so they looked like a book. If I was really lucky, my mum would staple the pages on the book spine so that they held together better. I'd draw the name of the book on the front cover, accompanied by a picture, usually something badly drawn using bright colours which wouldn't look out of place on a Jackson Pollack. After I'd finished the cover I'd move on to the blurb at the back. It would only be then that I'd really think up what was going to happen in the book. Then, I would fill the pages inside with all the pictures and stories a child's imagination could conjure.

And so I'd make those books during some free time in school. The corner of a playground, in a quiet class somewhere; the stories would just come out. I'd sit on the carpet of my bedroom surrounded by toys, and in my stories they'd come to life and have a part to play in the real world. Usually, the stories would be science fiction, pastiches of the stuff I loved. Intruders was a blatant rip off of Transformers, huge mechanical robots fighting it out to decide Earth's fate. I wrote thinly veiled recreations of The Goonies, Explorers, The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Star Wars... I was quite the hack plagiarist at five years old.

Soon, I started to share my stories with my friends. Not so much the books - it would take an entire university of Egyptologists to decipher my handwriting. No, I didn't show many people the books. They were for me more than anyone else. My little worlds to play in. But I did share them in a way. I told them. I would tell people about the stories I made, but quickly I realised what really grabbed the attention of my friends. It wasn't stories of weird and wonderful far off lands where the spiders were as big as a car, or the little island off of Russia where all the people had three arms and were expert goalkeepers. No, what really captivated my friends were the stories they could relate to; the myths surrounding where we lived. I populated our suburb with many weird and terrifying creatures, and over the years I got pretty good at scaring my friends so much they'd keep looking over their shoulders on the way home. In some ways, I believed the stories myself.

My mum was a typist and a secretary by trade. At home, she had a big green typewriter, and after that a grey one too. It was the grey typewriter, an Imperial I think, which I remember using the most. Soon, I wasn't making those little books out of A4 paper anymore. Instead, I was writing short stories and little scripts. In subsequent years, I found myself drawn to acting and making short films on a Hi8 camera, so script-writing became a focus, but the love for writing stories never disappeared, not really. When you love something, it never truly dies. It stays inside you somewhere, rattling around until you take notice.

I used to sit at the typewriter in my room and punch away at the clickety clacking keys. There was something immediate about the experience. Looking back, I realise that both those writing experiences - the handwritten books and the typewritten stories - were special for a reason. There was a physical component. With each punch of a typewriter key (and believe me, on that thing you had to hit it hard, giving it a bloodied nose just to make the words come out!) the pictures in my mind were being made into something no longer abstract. Something real on the page. Sure, it was just ink, just paper, but they came together to mean something. Like a silhouette of characters and events that existed somewhere else. The physical act of writing brought them all into reality.

Until recently I'd forgotten that feeling; how much fun it is to watch the words appear in front of you for the first time as you, your story's first reader, watches things unfold for the very first time. I still love to write stories by hand, they have a different flow to them. The words come out more slowly than when typing. It isn't that writing on a computer is bad, or that it doesn't have its advantages, it's just that the physical act of making words real, brings with it a sense of accomplishment which pixels on a screen do not.

But I can write by hand whenever I want; what about really typing? Something inside me said you miss that, Mike.

For this reason, I've bought a typewriter.  It's a well travelled Remington Travel-Riter (correct spelling) and it already feels like an old friend. When it arrived I was excited. It came in its original carry case, and when I opened it... The musty smell of decades of neglect quickly filled the room. I like the smell of old things; old paper, old machinery, the smell which says I've seen things you wouldn't believe. I even wrote a story about my fascination with the histories objects possess, and narrated it too, but I digress.

It took me three days to get the machine up and running. I cleaned out all the gunk and grease which had stopped the hardy little machine from working. Eventually, once a new ink ribbon arrived to replace the dried out one which came with it, I found myself staring at something beautiful. That might sound odd to you, but ask yourself: Why do we find anything beautiful? There's no real answer to that.

Now, I'm not saying I wanted to marry the thing, but I appreciated it. The work which went into designing the typewriter. The keys which had been tapped a million times. The strokes and imprints left on the carriage which spoke of whispered stories; what had been typed on the machine over the decades since it had been manufactured? Probably mundane things. Perhaps forms and letters to the banks. But the romantic in me... I think of the novels which never quite made it. Someone dreamed something and tried to make it happen. Maybe they did come to life on that typewriter, maybe they lived a life and even made it to a publisher, or perhaps they hid somewhere and are still in the fabric of the thing waiting to be found.

I'll probably not use the typewriter too often, but I've already typed a story on it, and the enjoyment of watching the words appear on the page was worth the slower speed. I had to type each page into the computer, but that gave me a chance to redraft before I did the final pass or two. The story benefited from that.

But it's not about the story. Not really. Nor is it about writing on something which is practical, it most certainly is not (unless a sun flare knocks out the world's power stations). No, what it is about is recapturing that feeling I had between the ages of 5 to about 13 or 14. Making the words happen; real, tangible, in front of you and part of the world.  In some way, that feeling is still there, and revisiting it every now and then by using my typewriter or writing by hand reminds me of a very important lesson: I love writing stories. I've always done this whether there was a reader or not. It's fun and I never want to stop. And if you're a writer, may I heartily recommend that you step away from your digital devices every now and then, so that you can rediscover the true joy of writing: Making words come alive.

I hope you can excuse this little trip down memory lane. Normal service will resume shortly unless there's some unspeakable thing eating your satellite dish or chewing on a cable or two. If that's the case, then forget the fiction, unless you have a rather clunky typewriter you can use as a weapon. It worked for James Caan.

James Caaaaaaaaaaaan
Typewriting is relaxing...



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Michael Whitehouse: The Nostalgia of a Typewriter
The Nostalgia of a Typewriter
The joy of using a typewriter to write fiction.
Michael Whitehouse
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