Radio and television interviewers sometimes struggle to ask sensible questions of writers. ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ is an old stand-by to which most writers patiently reply with a formula answer like, ‘A combination of imagination and experience’.
Crime writer Gabrielle Lord was once asked by an interviewer who hadn’t even read the blurb, let alone the book, ‘What’s your book about?’ Gabrielle replied, ‘It’s about 300 pages.’
Twenty years or so ago a common question was, ‘Do you use a word processor to write?’ It was a reasonable question back then when many writers still used typewriters: with luck, flash IBM electric models. The question is never asked now because it’s assumed that writers use computers and most do, apart from stand-outs still writing by hand like Tim Winton.
There may be some writers dictating their books as Edgar Wallace used to do, but I don’t know of any. I’m sure there are none like Edith Wharton who sat up in bed in the morning writing in longhand and throwing the pages on the floor. She would then bathe and dress for lunch, have an afternoon nap and correct the pages typed up by a secretary before dressing for dinner. ‘It’s the only way to write!’ said poet Elizabeth Riddell, who told me this
In the late 1970s I wrote on a portable mechanical typewriter but quickly switched to an electric model when a friend gave me one. I found the automatic return quite wonderful, as was the correction system whereby you could go back over a passage and blank it out. That was a breakthrough, but one was still left with carbon paper copies because the home photocopier was unknown.
My first word processor was an Osborne job introduced to me by my partner at the time, who used it in her work in an information agency. The machine ran on a Wordstar operating system and used two large floppy disks. Its operation would appear intolerably clumsy today but at the time it seemed the last word in time and effort-saving efficiency. The Osborne was subject to problems and, needing to produce at least three books a year, I coped by having two machines so I could keep writing while one was away being serviced.
My payment for doing a television commercial for Olivetti was a desktop computer, a laptop and a printer. The computer ran on an MS DOS system, which was an improvement. The printer used paper perforated down the sides running out on rollers. I wrote a great many books on the Olivetti.
The next jump was to an Apple Mac, of which I’ve had several models over the years. The first was so heavy I could hardly lift it; the current one came in a box so light I could carry it in one hand. Ink-jet printers have troubled me over time and I’m thinking seriously of a laser printer.
But although the mechanics have altered, and editing and revising and correcting are easier, the creative process hasn’t changed. Somewhere in the middle of my career I was travelling overseas and the laptop malfunctioned. I wrote 90 per cent of the book I was doing in longhand. No one ever said that book was any better or worse than the others.