It was about people whose mental diseases couldn’t be treated because the causes of the diseases were in the fourth dimension, and three-dimensional earthling doctors couldn’t see these causes at all, or even imagine them.
One thing Trout said that Rosewater liked very much was that there really were vampires and werewolves and goblins and angels and so on, but they were in the fourth dimension. So was William Blake, Rosewater’s favourite poet, according to Trout. So were heaven and hell.
It was Rosewater who introduced Billy to science fiction, and in particular to the writings of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater had a tremendous collection of science fiction paperbacks under his bed. He had brought them to the hospital in an old steamer trunk. Those beloved, frumpish books gave off a smell that permeated the ward, like flannel pyjamas that hadn’t been changed for a month, or like Irish Stew.
LETTER GOTHIC 12 typeface, TEC TW-1000 …
Kurt Vonnegut’s Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200 typewriter at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Indianapolis, Indiana. The library was opened on the 29th January 2011.
Image from http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/
Kurt Vonnegut and Olympia SM9, 1972
I’ve noticed that Poliakoff likes to explore class divisions by putting working-class characters into situations that allow them to inhabit the world of the upper classes. He likes to pepper his plots with stately homes, lavish garden parties, picnics, walls plastered with photographic stills …
“Black and white goes so terribly well together, don’t you think?”
… ghostly images in photographic dark rooms …
… and, of course, typewriter props, some of which ring a bell …
These are the essential ingredients that Poliakoff re-uses to good effect in his 2013 TV mini-series Dancing on the Edge.
Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) is deputy editor and chief writer at the emerging music monthly Music Express.
A Jack-of-all-trades, Stanley also writes captions for the magazine’s cartoon strip: Farquar & Tonk …
Other members of the staff are Mr Wax (Allan Corduner) the editor, Rosie (Jenna Coleman) the secretary Stanley is sleeping with, and Sarah Peters (Janet Montgomery) a photographer.
Stanley Mitchell and Rosie
“Stanley, is this Imperial contemporaneous, given it’s 1933?”
After talent-spotting and writing a review of The Louis Lester Band, an American Jazz band playing the basement clubs of London, Stanley gets them a regular gig, with accommodation, at the upmarket Imperial Hotel. This allows them to provide the proof of regular employment that will validate their work visas. Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor) the band’s very debonair leader has no such worries however, being of British-Caribbean extraction.
The jazz-loving, rich clientele of the Imperial Hotel includes a mysterious American millionaire Mr Masterson (John Goodman), Masterson’s young assistant, Julian Luscombe (Tom Hughes) somehow hand-picked from the upper echelons of British society to be his gopher, Julian’s diaphanous sister Pamela (Joanna Vanderham), and Mr Donaldson (Anthony Head), a patron of the arts with political and high-society connections.
Donaldson is the one who suggests that the band hire a singer. Instead they end up hiring two. Jessie (Angel Coulby) is a standout at her audition, but refuses to join the band unless they also hire her best friend Carla (Wunmi Mosaku).
Jessie, Masterson, and Carla
Thanks to Donaldson’s connections the band are asked to play at a funeral and a function at the stately home of the reclusive Lady Davinia Cremone (the lovely Jacqueline Bisset) who also maintains a suite at the Imperial hotel, but spends little time there.
The deceased, Charlie, a Jazz buff and presumably Lady Cremone’s late husband, is sent off in a way he would have appreciated:
“[…] he had all the latest records sent over from America. There’s one in his coffin now.”
Subsequently, Lady Cremone invites Stanley and Lester for tea in her memorial garden, which is dedicated to her two sons killed in the Great War. Through a shared interest in Jazz with her late husband, it’s revealed she has a collection of back copies of the Music Express and agrees to help promote the band.
Stanley makes the most of this by persuading her to pose for a photograph which is featured on the front cover of the next issue …
Stanley’s taken freelance photographer, Sarah, along in anticipation of just such a thing. It’s also very convenient for the plot, since it allows Sarah and Louis to be paired-up romantically.
Lady Cremone suggests that the band resume their gig at the basement jazz club, a strategy which baffles the band at first, because they’ve moved on to bigger and better things, i.e. a regular gig at the Imperial. However, Lady Cremone has a trick up her sleeve, which is revealed when a special visitor to the club turns out to be none other than the Prince of Wales.
With such Royal patronage (the Prince enjoys slumming it at such basement nightclubs and is suitably impressed, especially with Jessie) the sky’s the limit and the band find themselves with a recording contract (His Majesty’s Voice) plus guaranteed BBC air-time on that new-fangled contraption “the wireless”.
Once again we’re treated to the high-jinks of the privileged classes, with the Prince of Wales and his flunkies dancing in the rain, and later, courtesy of Mr Masterson, embarking on a magical mystery tour on a private train, which is reminiscent of the private bus that was hired during that awfully overblown “dancing on the tables” picnic scene in Friends & Crocodiles.
Another staple of Poliakoff dramas seems to be the close, almost incestuous (it’s hinted) bond between brother and sister, with one stronger sibling protecting the weaker, more mentally-unstable other. We saw this in A Perfect Stranger.
This time it’s Julian and Pamela Luscombe who team-up to survive their dysfunctional and snobbishly aloof parents.
What saves this drama from the deep hole that Friends & Crocodiles fell into, are the various intrigues and infatuations that keep us interested. For a start, there’s Mr Masterson’s infatuation with Julian, Julian’s infatuation with Jessie (at one point her buys her a brand new car, so just why he needs to run errands for Masterson is a bit of a mystery), Sarah’s infatuation with Louis Lester, and Pamela’s infatuation with Stanley (which is eventually reciprocated, much to the disappointment of poor Rosie).
SPOILER ALERT …
Pamela Luscombe (Joanna Vanderham)
As far as intrigues go it’s the devilishly-handsome Julian who’s at the centre of things. After a hooker is beaten up in Masterson’s apartment, Julian asks Louis to help him tidy-up and keep things hush-hush (the implication being that Masterson has violent sexual proclivities).
It’s a task which Louis (improbably) accepts only to rue the decision later when Jessie, the band’s lead singer and at the height of her new-found success, is left for dead in a laundry cupboard, the victim of a vicious knife attack. Julian Luscombe is implicated in the crime.
Returning to the Imperial hotel on the night Jessie is attacked, Louis sees Julian, who has supposedly left for a Paris business trip with Mr Masterson. Louis later passes this information on to the police and initially Julian is the prime suspect, but suspicion falls on Louis instead when Julian’s stamped passport corroborates his alibi and his claim that he was en route to Paris at the time of the attack.
With Stanley’s aid, Louis hides out at the offices of the Music Express, and it’s this situation and setting that is used at the start of the first three episodes.
As Jessie languishes in hospital in a coma, Stanley persuades the band to carry on and Carla takes Jessica’s place as lead vocalist. As a sign of the times (and as a sign of things to come) several racist patrons walk out during a performance at the hotel.
Stanley has his revenge when (highly improbably) he’s asked by the German Embassy to recommend a band for an upcoming celebration of the appointment of Herr Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Stanley provides them with a band and a white pianist — only to substitute him at half-time with a black pianist, Louis Lester, thus prompting a mass walkout of indignant fascists.
Stanley taking the stairway to typewriter heaven
True to form, Poliakoff has something “rather special” planned as his drama heads towards its climax. Another lavish party is thrown by Lady Cremona, in the cow shed on her country estate no-less, and what’s more the entire village are invited to a knees-up afterwards.
It’s at this point that Julian returns from his mysterious trip to Paris, purportedly having sold English cheeses to the French (I know, hard to believe that the French should want or need English cheese).
More dancing in the street ensues (hence Poliakoff’s title), Jessie dies of her injuries, and a special tribute edition of the Music Express is rushed out as we see more scenes of typing on the rooftop (hence my title).
As the net tightens around Louis Lester, Masterson buys out the Music Express, Stanley gets a massive pay rise and they all move into swanky new offices. However, Stanley is troubled by Masterson’s shady dealings, the true nature of his relationship with Julian, and the fact that Louis appears to have been framed for murder.
Plot-wise all is revealed when Julian, having already shown ample signs of mental instability, creepily makes advances towards Carla and then shows up at Donaldson’s place with a gun.
In TV land, as we all know, if a gun is shown it’s gonna get used — and so it does when Julian blows his brains out in a packed restaurant. (Prior to this, his last confession is the best piece of dialogue in the whole drama.)
It turns out that Masterson, out of love for Julian, has been protecting him rather than the other way around.
Louis is smuggled to Marseilles (improbably travelling first class with the rest of the band and posing as a servant) from where he can board a ship that will take him to the U.S. (Not that we really care about Louis by this stage, or at least, I didn’t. Personally, I blame Julian’s parents.)
Julian Luscombe (Tom Hughes)
Born Børge Willy Redsted Pedersen in 1917 in Fredensborg, Denmark, Sven Hassel joined the merchant navy at the age of 14. He did his compulsory year’s military service in the Danish forces in 1936 and then, facing unemployment, joined the German army.
He served throughout the Second World War on all fronts except North Africa. When the war ended in 1945 he was transferred between Russian, American and French prisoner-of-war camps, and upon returning to Denmark, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for treason.
Hassel began writing LEGION OF THE DAMNED during his time as a prisoner of war. His 14 Second World War books, which draw on his own encounters and experiences as a soldier, have sold over 53 million copies worldwide and have been published in more than 50 countries.
He would write his drafts in the afternoons, and the following day he would dictate these to his wife. Once this was done they would go through the drafts together. After school, his son would then likewise go through the drafts and add his comments. Hassel’s wife was his editor at the time, so to speak. They were a team. Chapters and excerpts would also be read out aloud to friends and family for feedback. When this first round of edits was completed, he would go back and rewrite the book with his handwritten comments. It was all done on the old and trustworthy typewriter.
This process would be repeated numerous times until he was satisfied and ready to turn in his manuscript. It took 2-3 years to write each book back then.
There are several references to typewriters in Hassel’s novels:
‘A case of the D.T.s, I shouldn’t wonder. He’s a war correspondent. They’re always the worst kind. Anyway’ — he laughed, darkly — ‘he won’t be doing any more corresponding yet awhile. He smashed up his typewriter after he’d gone through his first two bottles of whisky. Said it couldn’t spell. I ask you! Said his typewriter couldn’t spell … and they cost money, you know, typewriters do. I tried to put it back together, but he’s a big bugger, he made a thorough job of it, I’ll say that for him.’
‘What can we offer him?’ asks Muller, looking at Wolf and Porta.
‘Ten tins of pork.’ suggest Porta, largely.
‘No, no,’ says Hofmann, ‘the yids don’t eat pig meat!’
‘I’ve got some ugly-looking Russian typewriters,’ says Porta. ‘Think he’d like to write on Russian machines? They’re sure to be all the rage after the war!’
‘He’s got all he wants of typewriters at H.Q.,’ Hofmann rejects the idea, irritably. ‘German ones. Think again.’
Sven Hassel passed away peacefully in Barcelona in 2012, where he had resided since 1964.
Extracts from: The official Sven Hassel website.
Had Timofey Pavlovich Pnin, the eponymous hero of Vladimir Nabokov’s 13th novel, not looked for and failed to find, in a bookshop, a copy of Jack London’s 1909 novel Martin Eden, I would not have known about it, or been curious to read it.
While Martin Eden, the hero of Jack London’s semi-autobiographical novel, happily takes his best suit and his “wheel” to the local pawnshop, and goes without food for days in order to scrimp the cost of postage so that he can resend his rejected manuscripts, what he refuses to go without is the rented typewriter with which he plies his trade.
“… he could not puzzle out the cause of their rejection, until one day, he reads in a newspaper that manuscripts should always be typewritten. That explained it. Of course editors were so busy that they could not afford the time and strain of reading handwriting. Martin rented a typewriter and spent a day mastering the machine. Each day he typed what he composed, and he typed his earlier manuscripts as fast as they were returned to him. He was surprised when the typed ones began to come back …”
Consistently behind with his payments on the rented typewriter, Eden manages to cling onto it long enough to put together a vast collection of short-stories, poetry and criticism. Indeed, it’s only when the typewriter is finally repossessed that his work begins to garner the attention of publishers.
But success comes too late for Eden to impress the (idealised) love of his life, Ruth, who breaks off their engagement under pressure from her parents.
The novel gathers pace when Eden befriends a fellow writer and intellectual, Brissenden, a tragic figure hastening his death (from tuberculosis) by drinking heavily.
Following the unreliable reporting of a political meeting at which he is a speaker, Eden is ostracised by his community as a socialist agitator. But Eden is no socialist. He identifies himself as an anti-socialist individualist and has strong opinions about the “slave mentality” of those (among his own class and the bourgeoisie) who advise him to give up writing and get a job:
“The thirteen colonies threw off their rulers and formed the Republic so-called. The slaves were their own masters. There were no more masters of the sword. But you couldn’t get along without masters of some sort—not the great, virile, noble men, but the shrewd and spidery traders and money-lenders. And they enslaved you over again—but not frankly, as the true, noble men do with weight of their own right arms, but secretly, by spidery machinations and by wheedling and cajolery and lies. They have purchased your slave judges, they have debauched your slave legislatures, and they have forced to worse horrors than chattel slavery your slave boys and girls. Two million of your children are toiling today in this trader-oligarchy of the United States. Ten million of you slaves are not properly sheltered nor properly fed.”
It is Brissenden who helps Eden to realise that the bourgoise lifestyle he aspires to, and the woman he loves, are not for him. And yet, at the same time, he cannot return to his working-class life or the women he left behind.
Having achieved the fame and fortune he could only dream about a few years before, Eden no longer wants either. He loses the will to write, to love, to live. At a low ebb following the death of his friend, he quotes an unknown poet:
Great book. I can see why Timofey Pnin sought it out as a possible gift for his son.
Nabokov himself was a proponent of individualism, and rejected concepts and ideologies that curtailed individual freedom and expression. He also hated happy endings (possibly another reason why he chose to endorse Martin Eden).
“Some people – and I am one of them – hate happy endings. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically.” [The Narrator, Pnin, 1957]
Do sc-fi writers dream of Selectrics in their sleep? Given the amount of time American science fiction and fantasy writer Andrew Jefferson Offutt spent in front of his, he must have done.
Andrew J Offutt (August 16, 1934 – April 30, 2013)
Offut published his first novel Evil Is Live Spelled Backwards in 1970. Of interest to the typewriter nerd is Offutt’s description of his habits behind the typewriter at a time when he was busy managing three insurance agencies in three cities:
“On weekends I was in sore need of relaxation. I relaxed in front of the Selectric. (I like the best machinery; the Mercedes and the Selectric are, although the Underwood P-48 and the SCM-250 I had for a year were Bhad Nhews [sic].) In six months of such heavyweight management, capped — and made bearable by — Saturday-and-Sunday writing, I created three short stories and 5½ novels. They started selling.”
Until very recently, all my work was done on the IBM. I would start at about 1.30PM, sometimes a little earlier on Saturdays. And write until dinner call: between 6:30 and 7:30. Interruptions were (1) frequent bellows for more coffee; (2) bathroom; (3) lunch: cheese and a little wine. Sunday’s schedule was the same, without lunchbreak. I wrote at a secretary’s metal typing table, at the top of the steps in the hallway of this huge old house.”
Offutt’s adoption of new technology almost proves fatal!
Offut’s typing style is elaborated on by his son Chris, also a writer, in his book My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir:
“He taught himself to type with the Columbus method — find it and land on it — using one finger on his left hand and two fingers on his right. Dad typed swiftly and with great passion. In this fashion, he eventually wrote and published more than 400 books. Two were science fiction and 24 were fantasy, written under his own name; the rest were pornography, using 17 pseudonyms.”
For more than 50 years, Chris reveals, his father secretly made comic books of a sexual nature:
“He called his method of drawing “the Steal technique.” He traced images from other works, transferred the tracings to a second page via carbon paper and modified them to suit his needs — all the sexual characteristics greatly enhanced. He believed that he improved every picture he stole with an innate ability to boost everyone else’s work. A dozen thick notebooks held thousands of pages of source material, images torn from magazines and catalogs, divided by category: standing, sitting, sex, breasts, legs and so forth. He dismantled hundreds of porn magazines to accumulate a reservoir of pictures to steal.
His process was time-consuming, the product of inexperience and lack of access to supplies and equipment. First he wrote a script that described the action, then made loose pencil layouts of panels. He fed the layouts into his typewriter and carefully typed segments of narrative into the allotted areas. He used the typed sections as guides for what to draw. A result was a lack of harmony between art and text. In every panel, the narrative tells the reader what the imagery already shows.”
Chris explains how his father had been concerned that his style was being consistently copied, the proof being that other authors had begun writing knowledgeably of the clitoris, which Offutt believed he pioneered:
“This upset him to the point that he decided to trick the editor into buying his work, using yet another pseudonym, Jeff Morehead, a variation of his middle name and the nearest town to his home. To get a different font, he bought a new ball for his Selectric typewriter. He changed his usual margins, used cheaper paper and churned out new books.”
Luckily, Offutt had almost as many choices of typing ball as he had pseudonyms. During his first two years of full-time writing, writing seven days a week, Offutt reputedly wore out a Selectric typing element, something that IBM told him was impossible (see point 6 in their advertising, below).
“Dad’s writing process was simple — he’d get an idea, brainstorm a few notes, then write the first chapter. Next he’d develop an outline from one to 10 pages. He followed the outline carefully, relying on it to dictate the narrative. He composed his first drafts longhand, wearing rubber thimbles on finger and thumb. Writing with a felt-tip pen, he produced 20 to 40 pages in a sitting. Upon completion of a full draft, he transcribed the material to his typewriter, revising as he went.
Most writers get more words per page as they go from longhand to a typed manuscript, but not Dad. His handwriting was small, and he used ampersands and abbreviations. His first drafts were often the same length as the final ones. Manuscripts of science fiction and fantasy received multiple revisions, but he had to work much faster on porn. After a longhand first chapter, he typed the rest swiftly, made editorial changes and passed that draft to my mother. She retyped it for final submission. At times, Mom would be typing the beginning of the book while Dad was still writing the end.”
Selectric ad and erotic postcards (above) from my collection. Textual extracts borrowed using a variation of Offutt’s “Steal technique”:
Following the recent (in Australia) release of the remake of the TV series Roots, there are now officially as many remakes of Alex Haley’s 1976 novel as there are fakes of his typewriters.
Haley (Laurence Fishburne) and IBM Selectric
Born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York, Alex Haley was an American writer whose works, including Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, centered on the struggles of African Americans.
A different typewriter, a Smith-Corona Marchant (SCM) Coronet Electric, as displayed at the 2011 “America I Am: The African American Imprint” exhibition at the National Geographic Museum, Washington DC, is purportedly the typewriter Haley used to write Roots …
Careless mistake? Deliberate fake? Or the real deal?
Haley and his IBM Electric Model C …
Alex Haley died of a heart attack in Seattle, Washington, on February 10, 1992, at the age of 70.