This Writing Life - The Pen is Mightier than the Microphone

One day the headmistress came into our class with a large black box and lots of wires and wheels. She put the contraption down on the desk and called me to the front of the class. Then she plugged in something that hummed and whirred, and set two big discs turning. "I want you to tell a story," she said. So I asked what the machine was for. "It's going to record you. If you won't learn to write we'll just have to get your stories onto tape." She placed a black ice-cream cone on the desk where it skulked like a frog that had failed to turn into a prince. Then she told me to speak.

The story started off okay. Sunbeams still carried their magic to me and wove their threads round my head. But my eyes kept drifting to those whirring wheels, while the plot tumbled flat on the ground. All the sounds came out dead. Afterwards, the machine played back my voice and I heard the story meandering lazily round, dull and boring like parcel-string. The box and wheels and blackened cone had stolen the magic from me, so I agreed with the headmistress that perhaps it was time I took up the pen.

Written letters had always danced and swirled on the page, like sunbeams, like magic. But now I learned to tie them down, shape them in pencil, and fix them firmly in space. It wasn't so different really from tying chalk-dust into stories into words. It just took more work. And at least it didn't hurt the story's flow. The magic grew much better through a pencil than a microphone.

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