The fax of the matter

Josephine Cox recalls her early brushes with computers in the classroom, and how as a writer she came to rely on two machines
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The Independent Online

Teaching was my first introduction to computers. When computers were just coming in, I was teaching nine- and 10-year-olds about them. It was like sending me to the moon - what did I know about computers?

Teaching was my first introduction to computers. When computers were just coming in, I was teaching nine- and 10-year-olds about them. It was like sending me to the moon - what did I know about computers?

I rushed to the library and took all the books out, of which there weren't many, and most were basic. And I was given a manual. We started on two little IBM computers, and the children had lessons in turn.

That was 12 years ago. It was quite easy then, with no intricate commands, websites or the Internet. We had programs for Math and English tutorials, showing children how to spell, add up and multiply. The machines were very basic. I taught them about switching it on and using the keyboard. There weren't cursors, mice or printers to be concerned with.

I found the learning process relatively easy, and even when the classes had left I would muck around on the computers. But I didn't think that they would take off as they did. From a teaching perspective, I am very much for the child using his own brain. Everyone has got a computer in his or her head. Throughout my teaching career I never let children bring a calculator into the classroom.

During that time I had begun to write my first novel, but I carried on writing in longhand, having no desire to use a computer. I would then give it to someone in the village to type, and he would give me a lovely printed copy that I would scribble all over.

I would tear pages out and put pages in, and several times it went backwards and forwards between us. He'd print out five or six versions.

I didn't feel it was taking me longer to do it manually. I was using quite basic editing markings; just putting my pen through something I didn't like, and adding anything on a separate piece of paper. That went on for about eight books, over about four-and-a-half years. Then my typist went on holiday just as I finished a book, so my husband bought me something that is 12 inches across, eight inches deep and folds up into itself with a little handle.

My Canon Starwriter is wonderful. As I typed that first manuscript, I also changed things as I went along. Changing bits here and there came naturally. But then when I came on to my new book and thought I would do it straight on to the machine, I couldn't. I think that when I am writing, I am in that story and it's going on all around me; it's very real and very close. The machine came between us. So I went back to writing longhand and using the Canon only for editing.

The screen on the Starwriter is about three inches deep, which doesn't bother me because I've never used a big screen. I manage with the small memory by putting each chapter on a floppy disk, which works out very well.

My books are about 450 pages. Now I have two Starwriters. The other is in Cyprus, where we spend six weeks each year - my husband insists you have to have some time off. I have about four hours a day writing over there, whereas here I write day and night. If a scene is going really well - it's powerful and driving me along -then I won't stop until it's finished.

We recently got a Brother facsimile machine to respond to urgent correspondence from London. I do quite a lot of faxing to my editor and it's very useful. I did resist it for a while because I thought it would actually be more work to take it off the fax and file it away. But it has been an absolute godsend. I no longer have to save my faxes together for a week then go down to a shop in the village. And of course I've also got one in Cyprus, where the mail takes longer.

I can't be doing with e-mail, and I've never had an answerphone. If I am not there I can't do anything about it. The fax and the Starwriter save me time, whereas having to respond to a string of messages would be impossible.