The term "carriage return" comes from the mechanism on a manual typewriter
reaching the right hand edge of the paper, you use a lever to return the "carriage" back
over, and move the paper up a line. This is why the Return
key on a computer is called,
well, the Return key.
They're funny things, typewriters. The first time I ever used one, I thought they were
really modern, clever, and complex. I'd been writing for years, but only ever with a pen
and paper. The typewriter seemed to give me a new level of control over the words, made me
feel like a real writer. It was a machine designed for one thing and one thing only -
writing. I had one for a few years, and thought it was the bee's knees, the dog's
bollocks, the gnat's chuff, the camel's arse, the magic left nostril of the
unicorn, or whatever.
But then I discovered computers. Ah, the joys of the word processor! Typed in the wrong
word? Just delete it. Not sure about the spelling? Computer'll check it for you. Wish
you'd used that sentence at the beginning of the paragraph instead of the end? Just drag
and drop it. Beautiful. Suddenly the typewriter seemed outdated, clunky, childishly
simple. What an effort it was to type on it, compared to the computer keyboard - you
needed a sledgehammer in each hand to hit the keys hard enough. If you got a word
wrogn wrong, you had to X it out or put dashes through it, cock up a
paragraph and the page was lost, pull it out, rip it up, start again. Sometimes you'd miss
a key, and end up with several metal arms all jammed together. What an ugly, heavy,
useless contraption. I left it in a friend's house one day, and never bothered to pick
it up. I didn't care. I had a computer. The typewriter was dead. Long live the
And that's the way things stayed, for quite some time. Surely no writer worth their salt
would waste their time using shoddy equipment. I needed the very latest thing to help me
shorten the path my ideas took between brain and page.
But ideas don't always have the courtesy of coming when you're sitting down at a PC. They
turn up at the most inconvenient hours and places. Lying in bed, just about to fall asleep
- bam, the greatest story idea you've had for months. Sitting on the train, watching the
world go by, shazam, there's another one. Walking to the shops to get some food, whack,
keep it coming, baby. So I got in the habit of carrying a little notepad and a pen
everywhere with me. The notepads got smaller, so I could fit them in my pocket, but the
pens were just a pain in the arse. If they worked at all, they would always leak a little
bit so that I had ink all over my hands. If you don't have a decent writing surface, you
have to use the wall - and pens just won't write upside down. Well, there's that special
NASA pen you can get from the shopping channels that does, but I didn't want to write in
outer space or underwater, I just wanted to write on a piece of paper. So I got a pencil.
Funny, how stripping it down and getting simple can make things easier. There's something
honest and decent about a pencil. Add in a metal sharpener and a notepad, and you're all
The trouble is - and anyone who has been exclusively writing on a computer for any length
of time will tell you the same - is that when you're used to typing everything, you kind
of forget how to write normally. It hurts, your handwriting looks like that of a small
child, and it's really, R E A L L Y S L O W... It's okay for quickly scribbling ideas,
but if you wanted to write a whole story, or chapter, or whatever, it's murder.
Computers, the supposed champion of the writer, failed me again on this one. I bought a
small laptop, so that when I was away from home I could write more, but I must have done
something to its mother in a previous life, because it fucking hated me. The battery went
dead quicker than a guy in a red shirt on Star Trek. The cable at the
back kept coming out. It crashed so often, after a while I was only capable of thinking in
five minute bursts.
So I threw it away. I took it out into the back garden first, and smashed the shit out of
it with a cricket bat, which gave me great satisfaction. I screeched and gibbered and
raved like a fruitcake as I battered it to death. If the thing had had blood to shed, I
would have smeared it all over my naked body and howled at the moon. Luckily for my
neighbours, though, it didn't.
I was still left with the problem of how to write large amounts when I wasn't near my
computer. The only practical thing I could think of was to get a typewriter again. It
didn't need a power socket, it would never crash, and I couldn't ever lose my work by
pressing the wrong button. When I got back from my journeys, I could simply scan in the
pages, optical character recognition would pick up the words, I'd fix the bits that had
gone a bit wrong, and all would be well. The wheel had come full circle, and I had a
They weren't easy to find though; you'd be surprised how difficult it is to buy a
typewriter these days. There are specialist shops you can go to - specialist shops, for
Christ's sake! It's like they're antiques. Well, they are, really. Strange how quickly
life moves on. I got a cheap second hand one, and it was like meeting up with an old
friend. It was a fairly modern typewriter, worked pretty well, but it didn't really have
any character, any class, you know? I figured, if I was a writer using a manual
typewriter, I might as well get one that looks the part.
I looked into it, and found out that I wasn't alone. Robert Bloch, author of Psycho
and a gazillion other books and stories, only ever used typewriters. He'd churn the
stories out, sixty or a hundred words per minute, only using six or seven fingers at a
time. It just proved that you didn't need to learn how to type properly, if you did it
long enough you would get fast. Really fast. He didn't like the electronic typewriters
though, or any sort of complex machinery - apparently he was a bit of a jinx. Someone from
UCLA came to interview him once, bringing lots of complex recording equipment. As soon
as the machinery was in the same room as Bloch, it completely ceased functioning. I like
that story. While I'm never going to be in the same league as Bloch, at least I'm on his
side as far as the typewriter is concerned.
Someone else who is a fan, and who I will also never be as good as, is Harlan Ellison.
He's got loads of typewriters. Four of them are Olympia portables, using a typeface
called Congress Pica. Funnily enough, two of these Olympias used to belong to Robert
Bloch. He left them to Ellison in his will, which is kind of a cool way to pass on the
So I was in pretty damn good company, I thought. Sure, I didn't have as good a typewriter
as them, but what the hell, they can't all be that different. They've got the alphabet and
an ink ribbon, you know, they're not like cars, you can't exactly put a hi-fi system in
them. But soon after finding out about Bloch and Ellison, I started picking up more
typewriters, just as a hobby. I managed to get hold of a portable Underwood from the
1930s, a Royal, and even an ancient Remington. To my surprise, I found that they really
were all different. The shape, the feel, the sound, the speed of key return, the hardness
of the keys, the noise of the bell, the varnish, the metal, the colour, the smell, even
the lingering echo you can hear if you strike a key and listen for a few seconds. They're
really quite beautiful machines. I finally understood why so many people keep persisting
with them, even now, in an age where they are completely obsolete.
I was at home the day I first saw it. I was on the internet, checking eBay for second
hand models, which was rapidly becoming a daily obsession, when I saw the listing: "2nd
hand Olympia typewriter, good cond., needs repair, once owned by Robert Block, author of
the Psycho movie". They'd spelt his last name wrong, of course, and he didn't write the
movie, he wrote the book - but my heart leapt out of my chest, even though it was a
terrible cliché for it to do so.
I clicked on the link, and frantically scrolled down to the picture. It was gorgeous;
bottle green and shiny, slightly crooked, but just fabulous.
I had to have it.
Only one other person was bidding on it, and I don't think they were really that
interested, so I managed to snag it for next to nothing. I couldn't believe it. When it
arrived, carefully packaged, I opened it as if I was opening a lost treasure from some
Oh, the smell! The smell of ink, the smell of metal, the smell of writing - I knew
at once that the seller had been telling the truth. This was one of Robert Bloch's
typewriters. I wondered which masterpiece he'd written on it - The House That Dripped
Blood? One of his many classic short stories? Or even one of the drafts of Psycho? I
didn't know. All I knew is that I wanted to write something, anything, on it, right there
I slowly fed a sheet of paper into it, and started typing.
The story came out quickly, easily, the machine itself seeming to inspire me, helping with
the flow. The words poured on to the page, and I laughed as I finally typed "The End" at
the bottom of the last page.
It was a good story, too. A spooky tale about a man who makes a pact with a demon - I
won't bore you with the details, but he ends up having his heart ripped out as he is
driving to work, his car ploughing into a house as he dies. Something, you could say, that
the master himself, Robert Bloch, might even have written. Not as good as his stuff, of
course, but you get the idea.
I was perfectly happy with my new possession for exactly twenty four hours, until I saw
the next morning's paper.
It was right there, on the front page. A local man had been killed when he crashed his car
into somebody's house. Just like in my story. I would have shrugged it off as a
coincidence, but for the other details. The police were treating it as foul play,
because there were a number of suspicious factors. Like, for example, the man's heart,
which had been removed prior to the crash. While he was still alive. Just like in my
I raced over to the telephone, but then paused. What the hell could I say? "Excuse me
officer, but I believe somebody murdered this man using a story I wrote yesterday as
inspiration. What? No, nobody but me has read it yet..." No, that wouldn't sound strange
at all. They certainly wouldn't come and arrest me just because I knew the exact details
of a man's murder the day before it happened...
I needed to take my mind off it. Over in the corner, the typewriter was sitting on the
desk. It looked friendly, comforting, so I walked over, in a daze, and started writing.
The next day, a man was found hanging from a bridge in the centre of the city. He had been
strung up by his own intestines, strangled with his own colon. Just like in the story
I had written that second day.
Things went from bad to worse after that. No, they went from terrible to catastrophic.
Every story I wrote seemed to involve gruesome deaths, mutilations, torture - and
every single one came true for some poor bastard the next day. But I couldn't stop writing
them, couldn't change the grisly subject matter. I needed to get them out. I tried to stop
one day, but was wracked with pains in my stomach and itching all over my skin, almost as
if I had tried to give up some horribly addictive drug. It was taking me over. I started
writing more and more every day, until I had the gnarled and twisted hands of an
arthritic old man.
More bodies were found all over the city. Skinned torsos, limbs, faceless corpses, eyes
gouged out, hacked to death - all of them by my own hand. I didn't do the deeds directly,
but I typed those people to death, murdering them just as surely as if I had wielded the
One day, in a moment of strength, I managed to take the typewriter down to the river in a
bag. I threw it in. There was no need to weigh it down, the metal monstrosity did that all
by itself. I watched it sink beneath the murky surface in the space of a second.
Relieved, I walked home, only to find the damn thing back on my desk when I got in the
I sank to the ground, crying in desperation and fear. There was no getting rid of the
thing. I was stuck with it, forced to be the conduit for its grisly taste for murder,
depravity, and human flesh.
I understood, now, how Robert Bloch had been so prolific, why such an apparently
pleasant, jolly fellow like him had managed to write such terrible, horrific stories, why
machines all around him refused to work, like the recording equipment in that UCLA
I understood about Harlan Ellison, too, who had taken on two of Bloch's other machines,
why he kept churning out books and stories, why you could hardly ever find his stuff in
any bookstores; he obviously can't bear the thought of profiting from other people's
deaths, so has his publishers only sell enough to cover their costs, but he has to keep
writing, constantly writing, wracked with fear and guilt, but unable ever to stop.
I also understood why the eBay seller had been so eager to offload the typewriter, why
he hadn't had a reserve price, and just wanted to sell it to anyone who would take it
off his hands. Maybe that was the only way to get rid of it, to have it taken by someone
who really wanted it.
And ultimately, I understood that I could never get away from the machine. It hurt when I
wasn't writing on it, felt so good when I was - but at a terrible, terrible price.
I'm typing this now on the typewriter, Bloch's typewriter. I think this is my only way
out. I hope it works. I've written to Ellison's agent suggesting he do the same thing,
but I don't know if it'll ever get to him. I'm taking care of things this end, anyway.
Whoever finds this, please, destroy the thing before it sinks its claws into you. Here
"I sat back after I finished typing, and placed the story inside an envelope, which was
marked 'To be opened after my death'. I taped a large piece of paper over the typewriter,
with the words 'DANGER - DO NOT USE - READ NOTE FIRST' written on it in big letters. As
soon as I was finished, I had a massive heart attack, and was killed instantly. The
person who found my body made sure to destroy the typewriter in accordance with my wishes,
before anybody was able to use it."
I hope it works. I really hope it works.
16:52, 30th October 2002
Submitted to e2 as part of the quest - Everything Quests: Scary Stories. Ha! You were reading fiction all along! BoogaBoogaBooga!
Notes: All the stuff about Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison is true; Bloch did all his
writing on Olympias, reportedly at speeds of up to 100wpm, and the UCLA incident really
happened - check out http://httpsrv.irt.drexel.edu/faculty/ina22/cliplib/clip-bloch.htm
for a great article featuring all that info and more besides. Ellison really does own two
of Bloch's machines, which were bequeathed to him - this is mentioned in the superb
short story collection "Slippage". And Ellison's stuff really is impossible to find
in bookshops - but not, of course, for the reasons above. As for me, yes, I rely on
pencils when away from home, but you'll take my computer away from me when you pry it from
my cold, dead hands. Or when I get a better one. Manual typewriters really are quite difficult to find, there's a specialist shop near me that sells and repairs them. Parts are rarer than rocking horse turds, apparently. eBay has loads for sale, even antique ones - there was a gorgeous 1920's Imperial in working order, one bid, £4.99, last time I checked, so if you're interested, go there. Be warned, post and packing's a bastard - they're very, very heavy.
I wrote this for my girlfriend as a Halloween treat, to be read out by the light of a
pumpkin candle. To make it extra atmospheric, I downloaded a font called Fucked Olympia
from www.free-typewriter-fonts.com - when printed out, as long as you don't use any
formatting apart from underline or strikethrough, it very nearly looks like you've
actually used a typewriter. There are some other typewriter fonts there too, varying in
quality. If you really want to go for authenticity, like I did, use a transparent text box
to XXXX out some "accidentally" mistyped words (check out http://www.monkeyshatner.co.uk/type.html for a pic of mine, and http://www.monkeyshatner.co.uk/pumpkin.html for a pic of the pumpkin). Er, or get a real typewriter - but that's