|This is just one part of it ...|
Correspondence with Deighton biographer and friend Edward Milward-Oliver this week pointed me in the direction of an excellent - specialised - article in Slate, the online magazine. This piece, by Matthew Kirschenbaum, is entitled 'The Book Writing Machine', and explains the little-known - and much contested - story of the first book to be written fully on a word processor.
Edward informs me that Kirschenbaum, an English professor writing a literary history of word processing, has been contributing to a debate within literary circles over the last few years about who did write the first book on a word processor. Early candidates included Stephen King and crime writer Stuart Woods. Thanks to a note from Edward, Kirschenbaum was put onto the fact of Len's lead in this area from the late sixties, and the result is his article (and presumably, forthcoming book!)
Len has always been a technophile and was writing in the sixties at a time when the computer was entering the office workplace and government, and creating new opportunities - and challenges - for organisations, including the security services. Computers would become an integral part of the Cold War challenge of outwitting the enemy and cracking codes in minutes that might previously have taken a code-breaker hours or even days. Len, of course, introduced the computer theme into his first series of novels. Billion-Dollar Brain features a mainframe computer that manages a series of free agents under cover in the Baltic states, working to bring down the communist state. The front cover design by Raymond Hawkey also feature one of the first Honeywell computers in the UK.
His interest in using technology to develop his writing efficiency is well establish in Kirschbaum's article, which relays - through a new interview with Len - some fascinating anecdotes about the physical reality of owning a word processor in the late sixties. Today, one is not required to remove the front window from one's flat to get an iPhone home!
'In the States, the MTST retailed for $10,000; Deighton leased his as a hedge against its eventual obsolescence. Because he had opted for the most expensive of the four models, it had an additional tape storage reel (much like the dual floppy disk drives that would begin accompanying personal computers a decade or so later). The operator could retain two different bodies of text at the ready “on-line,” and even blend them with one another in the course of producing finished pages—what we would today call a mail merge. For a project such as Bomber, which involved continuous cross-referencing between the different narrative episodes, this was to prove a particular advantage. Ms. Handley [Ed.- Deighton's personal assistant] was also able to take advantage of a feature that allowed special magnetic marker codes to be recorded on the tape, thus enabling near-instant access to any passage so flagged; this was crucial to ensuring consistency in the technical portions of the manuscript.
“One might almost think the word processor (as it was eventually named) was built to my requirements,” Deighton told me.'
"It used to be that when writers go together, they talked about money; now they talk only about word processors"It's a world away from how things are now, when any author has at their hand instantly the tools not only to write but the publish and broadcast their work to the whole word. And not a plug or a 5 inch floppy disk in sight.