Getting the words down | Electric Keyboards & Grand Pianos

Meet Jessica Fletcher

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Not the character Angela Lansbury played in Murder She Wrote…No this Jessica Fletcher is my newly purchased vintage typewriter. Yes, my typewriter has a name. If you can name your car, then I can name my typewriter. Jessica Fletcher is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters so what better name to use to christen my beautiful “new’ typing baby. As much as I am a technology-addict and have all the latest gadgets I am also a bit of a purist when it comes to the act of writing. I like a little of the old and the new. I have been looking for a vintage typewriter for about 5 years now and this month I found Jessica Fletcher. She is an Imperial Good Companion 5 Typewriter Circa 1957.

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Typewriters are works of art. Comparing them to our modern-day machines from MacBooks to iPad is like comparing a grand piano to an electric keyboard. Yes the electric keyboard is more portable but it is not a thing of beauty. Nothing beats a grand piano. For me a typewriter is a work of art. There is something that gets me excited about that clickety-clack of the keys or the smell of the ink or getting the ink stains on your fingers as you adjust or change the ink ribbon. The other day I read an article about an author who types out their first drafts on a typewriter for that sheer “inspirational digital-distraction-free ambience” and then transfers that to the computer for the editing stages. I LOVE that idea. It inspired me. Soon after reading this article, I found “Jessica Fletcher” online and I knew I had found my “machine of inspiration”.

Being the enlightened writing purist that I am ūüėČ I used Google to look up the history of “Jessica Fletcher” and her sister machines. I was delighted to unearth a few gems. The Good Companion Portable Typewriters were named after a best-selling novel “THE GOOD COMPANIONS” by English Novelist J.B. Priestly published in 1929. (Aside, a typewriter named after a best-selling novel – KISMET for this writer.)¬†¬†The first Good Companions were unveiled in 1932 with the Marketing Campaign of:¬†“The Good Companion brings fame to writers.” The typewriters went on to becoming the most popular typewriter in England when it got the Royal stamp of approval (Royal as in the The House of Windsor of Buckingham Palace.) when His Majesty King George V (Reigning Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather.) purchased one for his own use.

From 1932 to 1963 the Imperial Good Companions went through 7 different designs and were called Good Companion 1 – 5. The Good Companion 5 – “Jessica Fletcher” was the last design and most modern version of these typewriters. Imperial then went on to manufacture three other typewriters after the Good Companions but the company ceased production and closed its doors in 1974.

“Jessica Fletcher”and her sister machines were very modern for the day. The innovative design contained these new additions to the Companion Portable Typewriters:

  • An aluminium body in a fibreglass case
  • A 4-colour choice ribbon
  • Touch-Control (where the writer/typist can choose the striking power of the keys to match individual finger strength)
  • Two colour Stencil Selector
  • Total Platen control for precision paper register
  • Automatic Ribbon Reverse
  • A Finger-friendly basket shift which means very little pressure is needed to operate the keys

I have tested all the keys and they all seem to be in perfect condition. I do need a new ribbon so will have to still¬†buy that. The keys feel much smoother than any typewriter I used to use at school. The keys also feel much more tactile. “Jessica Fletcher” has the very sexy, curvy style that the most gorgeous 1950s ladies had. (Think the stylish female cast of Mad Men.) The colour is gorgeous too: a metallic silvery blue-green. It is not an accident that I compared the vintage looks of “Jessica Fletcher” to a Grand Piano. When I lift the lid and take a closer look it reminds me of a harp or an opened Grand Piano. “Jessica Fletcher” has only had one owner and it is obvious that she took good care of her baby.

No matter what instrument I use to “Getting the Words down”; whether it be pencil, pen, fountain ink, typewriter, MacBook, iPod, there is something about a vintage typewriter that inspires me in some deeper place. Perhaps it is the sensual feel of the keys that are made for my fingers or the sound of those letters hitting the paper but there is a definite sensuality that typing on a vintage typewriter brings to the craft of writing. Maybe it is a longing for simpler times and slower times when you did not have a million immediate distractions and a clamouring to use up time at a rate of knots. Perhaps it is the storyteller facet of this writer that is drawn to working on a vintage typewriter or longhand writing with a fountain pen because storytellers are the history-keepers of the world. So perhaps it is up to us storytellers, us history-keepers to constantly bring Renaissance to our corners of the world. Perhaps it is up to us storytellers to teach the stories of the past to inspire the storytellers of the future. What I love about “The Good Companions” in particular is that they were among the first portable typewriters that were not only inspired by a novelist and his novel but were marketed and manufactured for the Writers not the Typists or the Secretaries. This is a machine that must be cherished but must be used. It was never manufactured to collect dust on a shelf in an attic. It was manufactured to help writers tell their stories to the world. That is what this writer is going to do. “Jessica Fletcher” is going to let me tell my stories ¬†with a romantic blush of the past and all the writers and their stories that have gone before me.

Jessica Fletcher, my literary Grand Piano, sits in pride of place next to MacGyver, my literary electric keyboard, my Macbook. Sitting, pride of place, in the centre of my beautiful antique roll top desk Jessica Fletcher has found her home.

”¬†The Good Companion brings fame to writers.” – Kismet with perhaps a hint of destiny for this writer…

but

“This Good Companion brings joy & inspiration to this writer.”

There is a place for The Typewriter in the 21st Century.

Would you/Have you found a place for a Typewriter in your world?

If you have not ever used a typewriter, what are your thoughts on typewriters?

Which favourite vintage model typewriter do you lust after?

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Thursday Tips & Tools | HELP! S.O.S.

HELP! S.O.S (Save Our Stories)

We all have had this at one point or another…no I am not talking about Writers’ Block

nor am I talking about instructions on head massage over SKYPE or a G+ Video Hangout…

The thing, you thought would never happen to you has happened!

Your hard worked over WIP is lost not to mention all the countless hours of research. You may have updated a program and through a glitch all your work in the old program was lost. You may have spilt your necessary mug of coffee all over your keyboard and the machine fried. You may have opened one of those hilarious forwards from your Aunt May and it spread tentacles of a dangerous virus right throughout your system and all your files have been wiped clean or deleted. No matter how it happens, it happens to every writer who works with a laptop/computer. If it has not happened to you yet, do not think you are one of the lucky ones, it will happen and it will also happen at the most inconvenient time. You have just got to a crucial point in your WIP that unveils the whole twist in the story’s tale. You may have just typed end on your final edited draft but not yet transferred it to any disk-key or printed it yet. Whatever way it happens, it spells disaster. Yes I hear you say….”It’s ok. I back-up.”. When was the last time you backed up? What did you back up to? Did you back up right before the computer/program crashed? Did you back up to an email folder on your computer or even an alternate folder on your computer? Now, before rushing off to back off, I need your attention for just 5 minutes more. I just need to tell you one more thing…

DROPBOX

You see I tell you all the above because I speak from bitter experience. But what is experience unless we can learn from it. This has happened to me twice. The first time was a disaster because although I did backup, the backup folder was on the same computer that crashed. I lost everything. Research, articles, the WIP’s, emails and yes I lost the backup too. It all disappeared into a dark vortex of hot lava when my computer was fried from onboard chargers on an international flight. The worst thing was that I had over 800 brand new photographs from my trip which I was planning on sifting through when I got home for a travel article. The disaster was out of my hands in this instance. A clever IT guy managed to get a lot of it back but the most important stuff was frizzed and burnt out when all the electrical components in my laptop were fried by the onboard chargers.

Then after much pulling out of hair and stamping of feet and many french translations, I took a deep breath and bought an Apple laptop. (All of my previous had been Windows PCs.) Then I started backing up to external sources and I got very pedantic about backing up. I backed up before exiting every work session. I am still a tad on the obsessive side with backing up.

Then this year I found Dropbox at a friend’s invite in my inbox. When I read up on it, I was skeptical of using an online storage facility. How could I be sure nobody else would access my documents/research/photographs. So I ignore the invitation and then I had a second scare hit me with a program update that unfortunately deleted all my work. Even though I had it all backed up externally this time, it still took me hours restoring it. So what happened? I didn’t wait for the third disaster. I accepted the dropbox invitation and signed up immediately.

Ever since then, fingers crossed, with no third disaster I am breathing easily. I am not saying nothing else will go wrong. It might. But now I know that all my documents are safely uploaded and updated to dropbox. It is even done automatically. Once you have loaded up a document to Dropbox, every time you make changes to or update it, the document is automatically updated in Dropbox. Dropbox is online storage but it also lives in a little window on your finder or explorer on the computer. So you do not even need to open up the online storage to view the folders there, you just go to the dropbox folder on your own computer. With dropbox you can also synchronize all your mobile pda’s, iPads, netbooks or iPods to the same dropbox folder. This in turn will synchronize with your main computer/laptop. So wherever you write and whatever you write on, it will be both backed up and updated to Dropbox and will also immediately be available on your main computer as well. You can back up practically anything to Dropbox: documents, images, graphics, music, you name it and you can back it up. Dropbox is now so popular that many word-processing programs have a dropbox option that will sync with your dropbox.

Your work is also 99.9% safe. (There is no such thing as 100% safe.) It is also very secure. Your account is password activated. You can then also put different passwords on each of your files that you upload. If you wish to make the work public, there is that option too. Also if you wish to share something with a colleague or another writer or just share some images/music with friends and family, you can create a shared folder that is also password activated and is only accessible to you and the other person. This is really great for critiques.

Oh…did I mention Dropbox is free. Not just that, for every friend you invite you get extra space on your storage account. You already start off with 2GBs when you sign up but the more friends you invite, the more space you get. So tell me…have I convinced you to at least take a look at it? Here are a few more tricks that Dropbox can teach you…