Today I went into the town-centre to run an errand and came across the perfect turquoise vintage typewriter I’d never known I needed. It was in the Samaritans charity shop in a quaint little cobblestone street you’d miss if you weren’t looking, and sat atop its equally quirky carrying case, along with a sticker asking for the princely sum of £10.00.
On seeing this 1950’s beauty, I had visions of the writing-room of my dreams. This typewriter would sit on a shelf, or a low coffee-table next to a peace lily and sepia photos of generations of my family’s women. I might keep the carrying-case in a box and sit it on a stack of big, old books, with greying spines and yellow pages. Buying it was a no-brainer – but first there was the errand to complete, the groceries to pick up and the heavy gym bag (with the added cargo of newly borrowed library books) to drop off at home. It seemed logical, right? Errands done and cargo ditched, I could come back to the shop and have a closer look and a little browse without the physical weight of my bags or the mental weight of the (sensible, practical) things still left to do.
I swear I went back to the shop less than an hour later. You guessed it, my typewriter was gone. The lady behind the counter was so apologetic, so understanding. Things get snapped up in a minute, she said, if I see anything in the window it’s best to come in right away, lots of antiques enthusiasts come in several times a week.
When I talk about the one that got away, however, I’m not talking about the typewriter (traumatic though it was!). I’m talking about the perfect word, the ideal sentence that comes to you on the train, at the cocktail reception, in the middle of aerobics class. The one that you let slip because you’ve got something more pressing or important to do, the voice you silence because it’s just inconvenient to hear it at the time your character decides to talk. At least for me, sometimes when I let that word/sentence/voice go, it’s gone for good.
The typewriter was the universe’s way of having a laugh while teaching me a lesson – if you want it, write it now.
This week I had at least two instances of writerly inspiration come to me when it was inconvenient, to say the least. In both cases, I didn’t record the thought, the idea, the sentence. Up until now one is still lost to me. Maybe this forgetfulness is to be expected while I try to live at warp speed, but just in case one or more of those precious titbits will take a work-in-progress from good to great, I’ve decided that I will use whatever is necessary (cell-phone, cocktail napkin, back of lecturer’s handout) to record what comes when it comes. I’ve even coined a phrase for it: guerilla writing.
The next time I hear a character’s voice, I’ll be dropping everything else and giving it five ….words or more, that is!
In the interim, I’m trawling e-Bay for a vintage typewriter. 1960 or earlier. Must be turquoise.