My first book was written in pencil on a letter pad. It was about a bunch of kids on a farm (just like the one I lived on) having adventures, and it was never finished. I was about ten or so at the time.
My second was written in an exercise book with a fountain pen. It was illustrated, I remember. I was twelve and I did finish that one. It was a love story/historical novel set in Scotland (where I had never been),which I wrote just after I had just read a couple of books set, guess where, in the Scottish Highlands.
The next books were also handwritten, then laboriously typed on a lightweight portable Olivetti with the aid of a typewriter eraser, because back in those days there was no whiteout. If you made too many mistakes, you re-typed the whole page. Those books were set in Western Australia and I never did anything with them. I eventually bought a very old secondhand electric and used that until they stopped making the ribbon cartridges for it.
That was followed by a new electric that could remember a couple of lines of typing so you could correct them before it printed. I replaced that with a computer in 1981 or thereabouts – Apple 2C – and a dot matrix printer that printed text in one colour: the palest of greys. Green screen, Wordstar and two huge floppies that had to be used at the same time because the RAM was so small. The computer often crashed, and too bad if you had forgotten to save because there was no such thing as automatic backup, and if you saved the wrong thing, too bad, because you couldn’t go backwards either.
I served my time, in other words. I am sure if things were that hard still, there would be a lot less wannabe authors around, because it certainly wasn’t easy to finish a 70,000 word book, let alone one twice that length…
And yet all that was nothing compared to what Irish author Christopher Nolan went through to write some of the most beautiful lines in the English language. Unable to speak or control his muscles, he wrote laboriously tapping out one letter at a time with a pointer attached to his forehead.
He died last week, aged 43. And did you know that U2 wrote a song about him?