Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a writer? What’s involved in the creative process from concept to the final product? Steven Savile, international bestselling author and Corel guest blogger shares a little insight in this blog series as he rediscovers WordPerfect Office while working on his next novel. – Gillian Darby, WordPerfect.
Rediscovering WordPerfect: A little wander down memory lane.
When I started out writing my first computer wasn’t a computer at all, it was an Olivetti typewriter, one of those retro-trendy ones with round keys you had to hammer down to make an impression on the paper.
I used to sit in my office (better known as my bedroom back then) with the lights out, parents asleep in the other room, hammering away at the keyboard at 1, 2 even 3 a.m. until the shouts came through: “For goodness sake go to sleep!” I’ll have been maybe 17 at the time, working on my first fantasy novel – Old Yawn and the Wizard’s Banana… which, frighteningly, I found the first four chapters of recently.
I’m not sure there were ever more than four chapters. The set up was basically wizards needed fruit to cast spells, not wands or potions, and one of the greatest had been kidnapped right after casting a perpetual rain spell on Old Yawn, seedy capital city of some amorphous empire. It was a classic crime noir, with a ‘dame’ who comes into the private investigator’s office and rolls her eyes at him, he picks them up and rolls them right back (you getting a feel for this, eh?) little demons who are hoods working for the Cosa Nosferatu, and the like.
I had a Commodore Amiga some time around then, and adored it for games like Alternate Reality and Dungeon Master… but in a commitment to my ‘art’ I sold it and bought an Amstrad PCW which was basically an expensive typewriter with a screen; no games, nothing… I know, I wrote stories on it. There was one, The Ohmygodnotagainriad, which has survived (you may have noticed I wasn’t entirely serious growing up, and Interzone at one point did remark that the world didn’t need another Terry Pratchett, one was quite enough), and a novel BIX, which heart-breakingly didn’t.
BIX was written with one of my best friends, Michael Gilroy (who recently published a wonderful Doctor Who horoscope book, Whostrology, if you’re that way inclined), and the only copy was left in the Tyneside Cinema after the screening of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed show and tell with Clive in attendance. That was pretty much the end of me doing ‘funny.’
The next attempt, The Secret Life of Colours/Last Angel/Angel of Pain (it had many titles over its life) prompted my then agent to say “Steve, this is unremittingly bleak… don’t you think you could, I don’t know… crack a joke once in a while?” So it was very much a case of extremes, I think, with me.
That machine gave away to the computer of my dreams, an Acorn Archimedes, running an Arm Processor (which is probably what’s powering your smart phone these days, weirdly) and was just the most brilliant computer. I never liked PCs. I was always an outlier. But one thing the Acorn could do was emulate a 386 PC flawlessly, so after spending nearly 2,000 pounds in 1993 on a computer (I don’t even want to THINK about it) I then went and bought the PC emulator and a copy of WordPerfect.
This was all pre-Windows, you have to remember, and Word was barely a glimmer in Microsoft’s eye. WordPerfect was *the* piece of kit for the serious writer – and many “word nerds” would still argue that WordPerfect 5.1 is pretty much the perfect writer’s tool with all of its macro enabling and the ability to shape it precisely to your needs… I wrote my first three novels, the juveniles, if you like, on that machine, using WordPerfect: The Last Angel, The Sufferer’s Song and Laughing Boy’s Shadow.
I even had the most bizarre lightning storm power-cut in the middle of a spell check that reduced the 160,000 words of The Sufferer’s Song to about 300 words that made up its custom dictionary and nothing else. There were screams. There were tears… there was also an awful lot of retyping, because I wrote first drafts long hand, then typed stuff up, I couldn’t write straight to screen back then.
Then, some time around 1996 I sold my soul and got my first PC, an HP Pentium, even had a CD drive on it… and a huge hard drive, but it wasn’t half the machine my old Archie was. However, everyone was using Word for Windows 3.1 by then and there was a drift away from what had been the DOS-based WordPerfect.
For the next 15 years I used variations of Word right the way up to the latest iteration of it on the Mac, but during a long conversation with my friend Stefan Lindblad who is the only CorelDRAW Master in my part of the world, I was lamenting the general awfulness of Word and how much I actually miss the old days or WordPerfect when Stefan pipes up, “Hey, you do know WordPerfect still exists right?” And in truth, I didn’t. I need to hand my geek badge back in, I guess.
That raised my interest… WordPerfect still existed? I’ve got all these fond memories of the old word processor, and I’m just about to dive into the writing of my ‘big fat fantasy’ The Harrowing… I had been planning on working in Scrivener, using the features to keep track of the vast array of characters etc. as this one has an immense cast, but instead I reached out to the good people at Corel. We chatted a bit about the software, what it can do, how it might just work for me… and I’m all in.
I’ve ditched the Mac, picked up a brand new Asus Zenbook Prime which is nicely portable, and loaded up a single piece of software – WordPerfect… so now it begins. The new novel, on the newest version of what was for a very long time my absolute favourite piece of writer’s kit. Every now and then I’ll put up something a little different, like this, talking about my experiences, the pros and cons, and basically get my geek on.
I figure that’s better than me inflicting the new football season upon you…
Stay tuned for future updates from Steven on his writing process and how his novel is coming along.