My Technology: A novelist keeping his faith in the printed word

Magnus Mills has made one concession to new technology, his trusted word processor
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The Independent Culture
BEFORE I was doing my book [The Restraint of Beasts], I used a manual typewriter; a black Imperial. This began to clog and the keys were mashing together.

So it was then an electric typewriter, bought for pounds 10, which bore the brunt of my roughness and eventually the ribbon and return jammed. I said I would never get a computer, but was persuaded to buy a word processor; a Sharp Font Writer. Even now I can't see the advantages of a computer and no one has managed to convince me I will ever need one.

The big difference between a typewriter and a word processor is not having sheets of words immediately there. For instance, I file every chapter separately, which means I sometimes forget what is happening in which chapter. So I need to keep a written note of what is happening.

I copy the book every time I do anything and make three or four separate copies, hiding them around the house in case I get burgled. The one I have in my coat pocket is the safest, as apparently dust can be dangerous to a disk.

When I went to America, I was terrified of going through the airport checks just in case it wiped the disk. But even if a whole section went missing, I think it usually improves it when you write again, plus it is easily remembered if written interestingly enough.

One of the bad things about this word processor is that it won't do automatic page numbering above 130 pages. So I have to do each page myself. And it takes about a week to print a book.

On the other hand, when it takes so long to print out it makes me read every page several times. The big one you can miss unless you read carefully is when you have gone through with a spell check and changed something without realising two pages before was a similar expression or word. I have a huge basket of discarded pages; to get it perfect you have to read the hard copy. I see things on hard copy which I haven't seen on the screen.

I have to admit that it makes things easier because my mind races ahead. I do like being able to bring it up and bang on and not have to worry about spelling when I am on a flow. And it has the advantage of easy change; on the mechanical typewriter you only make one mistake and have to start the page again. You can't hand a manuscript to a publisher unless it is perfect.

I have to begrudgingly admit that the word processor is useful. I had very strong reservations at first, but I see it as a handier tool than a typewriter. In terms of how it effects how you write, in some cases it makes you more aware of what you are writing.

What I can't understand is how people sit and read off a screen for pleasure; if it replaces the printed word, God help us. Everyone will be short-sighted and need glasses.

I couldn't be persuaded to have anything technological for the sake of it. I think people in Britain accept anything that comes along and obediently buy what is going. Now everyone is raving about digital television (we have just replaced our black and white with a colour, so I won't be getting rid of that).

It's the idea of being dependent on technology that I resist. It's a useful tool, but when people ask me what computer I use, I say I am not interested. When I write a novel, it comes out of my head.

`The Restraint of Beasts' by Magnus Mills is published by Flamingo (pounds 9.99)

Interview by

Jennifer Rodger