|Corona Model 4 portable typewriter, 1924 pattern|
When I was 16 I discovered the work of the Golden Age illustrators (Rackham, Dulac, Heath-Robinson, Stratton etc). In fact it was a re-discovery really as my mum had kept a couple of compendiums from her childhood that had been illustrated by these artists, but I rarely saw those. It was only in the mid-70's that I began seriously examining children's illustration, Arthur Rackham's work in particular began transporting me to realms of the imagination. Gradually my artwork at school began to take on the iconography of old fashioned ethereal fairy tales, anthropomorphised animals and so on. By the time I reached 6th Form I knew I wanted to be a children's book illustrator, so it was only natural I'd also pursue writing too.
My first attempts at writing children's books had been laughable copies of Enid Blyton adventures, written by hand when I was around 13.... none extended past the first chapter! But by 1977 I was serious, and so managed to persuade my parents to buy me a typewriter.
Of course, what I had in mind was a modern, zippy electric typewriter that I could churn out pages of manuscript. But, ever watchful for a bargain, my mum spotted an ad for something second-hand, and what I ended up with was a Corona 4 manual machine, released onto the market in 1924. I remember the day we picked this up from a big old house on the private estate, I didn't quite know what to make of it - this wasn't hi-tech! though I fell in love with it's look.
I'd never touched a typewriter before in my life, so the fact the ribbon feed was rusty, you had to bang down the keys so hard it made your fingers ache, or that the 'e' was slightly misaligned didn't bother me, I had no other experience to compare to so just got on with it - it was the only way for me. I felt I was following the route of the great writers, rather than obsolete, it was 'classic'.
While other 18-year olds were discovering pubs, I spent most of my free time typing out my first manuscript In Search of Summer Gold - my one and only attempt at a novel - a long, pretty unpublishable tale of anthropomorphised mice and fairies in the 18th century, a mix of The Wind in the Willows meets The Lord of the Rings, with a good dollop of Brothers Grimm and Peter Pan thrown in for good measure. And of course I illustrated it with highly derivative pen drawings. From a professional level it was not very good and was turned down by two publishers before I eventually shelved it .... but at least it taught me to type!
Later on I used the Corona to type up my degree thesis, and in the early '80's the first issues of the Norwich post-punk fanzine/magazine The Blue Blanket ... banging those keys down with a satisfying smack! smack! smack! as they hit the ribbon, it was the perfect instrument on which to take out frustrations with the world. But thereafter it was retired, and I've never attempted to write a novel again.
It took a battering in the years I used it, 35 years in my dad's loft has not been good to my old stalwart either, but I was very glad to rediscover it there.