xiii

Last night I discovered that W2B, goddess that she is, has bought me a very special souvenir on her travels – a typewriter. She’s coming back for a week in seven days, and this new and singular gift will be coming with her, all promise and challenge wrapped up in one.

Challenge because this is serious now. Writing is serious. I’m not playing around on the fringes anymore, picking at loose ends and pulling curiously to see where they lead. Now it’s becoming a part of my life, a part of myself, a part of my future. Which only makes sense, given that it’s always been such a huge part of me anyway – but now there’s no holding back.

Promise because, in my view, if there’s any tool which a writer like me needs it’s a typewriter – no internet, no Thesaurus.com, no Spotify, no distractions only a blank page and the ink waiting to mark it. It’s no coincidence I chose a typewriter as the image for this site. It may be affectatious, but I love the things.

To tread into Raymond Chandler-esque territory, a typewriter is a writer’s gun. The sound is unmistakable, so infused with suggestion. The weight, the sheer bulk and mass of it. The cold metal. The moving parts. And oh, when it’s in the right hands or the wrong hands, the excitement and damage and thrills it can unleash.

Not that it’s going to solve any problems – after all, it’s a tool, not a muse. I’ve already learnt over the years that no matter how many notebooks I buy, no matter how many pens I collect to write in them, they’re just pages, binding and ink. I’m the writer.

A typewriter dominates a room in much the same way as a silent piano. And it exudes the same pressure. Now we have a typewriter, I have both the tool to write and the void to fill with writing. A blank page never looks more empty than when between a typewriter’s teeth, and the pages I don’t write are going to be that much harder to put out of my mind. But I’m dwelling on the negative here – getting a typewriter is fulfilling a boyhood dream I hadn’t even realised I had until recently.

Though I find this a fulfilling exercise, I’m never happier when writing than when I’m physically touching the page I’m writing on. A typewriter is the best of both worlds, a sort of romanticised industrial icon which retains all the smell-it reality of handwritten copy while ordering and regimenting the process of funneling ideas into something readable. It creates something that looks ‘finished’ while still enabling you to get your hands dirty. Very, in some cases.

When I was younger I was given an acoustic guitar. I think I probably had a recorder in primary school too. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a glorious Les Paul electric guitar after finishing university, and I’ve often yearned for a drum kit. I had to be wrenched away from the Rock Band kit. But with all of those things I desired to get out of them what I saw others doing, without ever feeling truly capable.

Every instrument I’ve ever been in contact with I’ve wanted to make sing out with intended force, to express the taut strings and drumskins which reverberate in my soul. I wanted so badly to carve out riffs and smash through percussion solos. Always looking to emulate people, every last one of which I agonisingly understood shared nothing in common with me or my abilities. They outstripped me and there was no bridging the chasm.

But all that time I was stretching in the wrong direction. What did I want from that beautiful, beautiful guitar? What heart-rending sound was I trying to wrench, clumsily, from its strings? What heartbeat, what narrative, what story was I yearning to pound and pound and pound from those hollow deep drums? It was narrative. It was story. It was chich-chich-chich-chich-chich-chich-chickachich. It was writing.

A typewriter is the instrument I have longed for through all my life, an instrument that I can pick up and feel as an extension not just to my body but to my mind. Laptop keyboards and pens and paper only go so far, they aren’t artefacts, purpose-built instruments in the same way. Typewriters have so little relevance nowadays there’s only one reason you’d buy one – because you love writing. Or, of course, because you love someone who does.

I know it wasn’t the Fender that made Hendrix into a god. But it was his instrument, the one that fit him, and it was still there, still at the heart of his music like a mechanical umbilical cord/chord, and he was in that guitar for fucks sake. You can see it in his eyes, in his fingers, the thing was breathing in his grip, perspiration gathering on the strings as they reverberated to the music and the music in his soul rang out clear as a bell through the instrument under his hands.

He made the guitar music and the guitar opened the music in him. And while I wouldn’t dream of comparing myself to Hendrix’s lightning-bright genius, I know what instrument is mine now. I know the tool which will speak to my soul, and which my soul will speak through with utter clarity. It’s not a guitar. It’s not the drums. It’s a typewriter.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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