The Writer and the Word Processor, UK First Edition, 1984
Subject of the book
In a period when PCs were starting to appear in people's homes, this book was published as an introductory guide to anyone taking their first steps in word processing. Up to this point, most people - most writers, too - were still using typewriters. Electronic typerwriters were fairly common, but the idea of saving text, amending it, moving it around was set to transform how people wrote, and this book was clearly seeking to exploit this new market.
Looking back, the advice and the technology under discussion appears archaic, but at the time when PCs cost a hefty proportion of the annual wage, very basic word processing programmes were state of the art.
Chapters consider the hardware open to buyers (with prices quoted for a good word processing machine of between $2,000 and $3,000), the elements of a good word processing programme (does anybody still use Scripsit, described here as 'one of the leading programmes'?) and choosing an automatic dictionary and grammar checker. This book is pre-Internet and contains a - with hindsight - fascinating article on 'how to use the telephone lines to tap into libraries' and the world's electronic store of information'. It's a short enough book and great fun for anyone who wants to recall the days before Microsoft Word became ubiquitous.
The author, Ray Hammond, is described as a 'professional writer' and uses his literary connections to include snippets from interviews with Len Deighton, Dorothy Dunnett and Tom Sharpe.
Deighton has always regarded himself as a connoisseur of technology and was what is known nowadays as an early-adopter: he owned one of the first PCs in the UK, for example. This comes across in his foreword, where he shares his experiences. Interestingly, he insists that he still finds that his dedicated word processor still sufficies for writing his novels, however he also uses a word processor with a screen, which he advises should have a 'scroll function'! The foreword is five pages and was quite a coup for the author, Deighton being at the height of his publishing powers in 1984.
'Len Deighton has described himself as "trapped" by his word processor. When his family spend time in France he is forced to remain in his house in Ireland simply because that is where his word processor is. If he's away from it, the amount of work that can be done is minimal. Moving a large word processor around is difficult and thus it might be suggested that, for all its benefits, computer aid robs writer of their freedom. This has certainly been the case, but now things are changing.'