Abir Mukherjee

The March of Progress!

In Murder, She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher pecked out mysteries on an old Royal typewriter in 1984 and ended up tapping them out on her laptop by 1996. What changes in technology had the greatest impact on you in your writing career?

Right, here’s the problem.

I came to writing late. I wasn’t even writing a decade ago, I was too busy being an accountant. That means that I missed the era of typewriters and carbon paper and photocopiers and correction fluid that my fellow bloggers were forced to contend with. Also, I’m only twenty-nine years old (yes I am) so basically anything before the advent of Taylor Swift is strange, antiquated and exotic to me.

So how do I answer this question when basically everything I use is everything I have ever used? I suppose I’ll have to do what I normally do and just make stuff up.

Let’s get started then.

  1.     The invention of the quill pen. – When I first started writing, we basically had to score our words into stone tablets like the Romans or the Sumerians. It was a horrible business. You made one mistake and your whole tablet was ruined and it was off down the quarry with you for some more stationery. (Little known fact – that’s where the word ‘stationery’ comes from. If you tried lugging more than three tablets home from the quarry, you inevitably found yourself unable to move). 

But then, joy of joys, god, or maybe mother nature, invented the birds, and since then, man has been fascinated by the creatures, working out just how they fly and what is the best way to eat them. A by-product of the latter was a surfeit of feathers. Indeed, there are stories recorded in the holy texts of many religions of the world drowning under a tsunami of surplus feathers (the word ‘drown’ is simply a corruption of the old English word ‘down’ meaning feathers). Eventually some bright spark suggested using the feathers for bedding and other practical purposes, one of which was writing, and so the quill pen was invented. The first quills were dipped in blood or mud or sometimes tar but in the following millennium, mankind successfully tamed and domesticated the squid and since then, ink has been the writing substance of choice.

  1.     Paper – The problem with papyrus is that it’s extremely hard to find outside of Egypt and big metropolitan museums, so if you were a writer living in a non-urban, non-Egyptian milieu, then you were basically buggered. So it was a big relief when someone cut a tree into very thin slices (originally in a misguided attempt at cuisine) and then proceeded to invent paper. Not everyone has quite got the hang of paper, though. Whilst most of the world quite sensibly cuts its paper into ‘normal’ sizes: A1, A2, A4 etc, ‘Americans’ and their colder cousins in Canada, insist on using paper cut in ridiculous dimensions called ‘US letter’ and other abominations. As ever, the rest of the world humours them, just like we do with their insistence on calling American football (which is basically rugby for wimps) ‘football’ and their insistence that a national baseball competition be referred to as the ‘World’ series, but I digress.

  2.     The Printing Press – This was invented by a man called Steve Gutenberg and basically paved the way for genocide in the name of religion. However, discounting the millions of subsequent deaths, the invention has proved hugely beneficial to the library industry (or Big Library as it is called in corporate circles).

  3.     The Typewriter – I remember getting my first typewriter like it was yesterday. In fact it was January 2020, when my wife bought me it as a birthday present thinking that I, as a pretend writer, should own one. The fact that it only feels like yesterday illustrates just how important an invention it was.

This, kids, is a typewriter


  1.     The Word Processor – this device was a waste of time. It was basically a computer that you couldn’t play games on, and in that sense, typifies much of the nonsense that went on in the eighties.

  2.     Word Perfect – The first proper writing software probably. It’s the first one I can remember anyway. Problem was, it wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter. Bill Gates was about to destroy them with a product simply titled ‘Word’.

  3.     The Internet – Brilliant for researching everything from serial killers to explosives, at least until the FBI break down your door. Before the advent of the internet, the only ways to make the serial killers in your novels authentic was to spend time with one (generally a short-lived escapade) or, like Agatha Christie, become one yourself.

  4.     The Cloud – Now this one really is a game changer. Before the cloud, you had to back up your work onto floppy disks or hard drives, a process that could often take up to thirty seconds and so was completely unsuitable for writers with their err busy schedules. As a result, many tears were shed and teeth gnashed and much sackcloth and ashes were worn when writers lost their work because they forgot to back up, or because their computers fell into the sea or were confiscated by the FBI because you used it to look up the Anarchist’s Cookbook. Well not no more! Now, even if you go to prison, you can rest easy on your concrete cot knowing that your manuscript is safe somewhere in the cloud, even though you, as a brown man googling explosives, are likely heading for a long, extra-judicial stretch at some CIA black-site.

Have a great weekend, and happy writing.


4 November 2022