It was 1982, and I’d just launched my freelance career. And – ironically – found I had a bit of time on my hands.
Phil Gardner, who’d helped me get my very first freelance job as an encyclopaedia contributor, came up trumps again. For some reason he’d ordered a new Spectrum ZX81 personal computer – and got two. He very kindly gifted me the spare, and I had hours of amusement learning to program it and seeing what it could do.
In the meantime I was scouring the back pages of The Bookseller for editing work – and found an ad from Granada Publishing that looked promising. When I got in touch I discovered they were churning out books about the new generation of personal computers – including the Spectrum – and, as it seemed, couldn’t do so quickly enough. I worked through two or three of the manuscripts to make them more accessible to apprentice nerds like me, and the feedback was very positive indeed.
To the extent that they asked me to write a book myself.
I wasn’t sure about it. ‘I really don’t know much about this – yet.’
‘That’s fine,’ they said. ‘It means you’re very much like our target audience.’
So – with a few misgivings – I accepted a commission to write a book called The Spectrum Add-On Guide. In essence, my job was to review everything on the market that could plug into a Spectrum, and report my results.
It wasn’t long before the boxes began to arrive. Pretty much everything imaginable. Microdrives. Disk drives. Keyboards. Monitors. Printers. Modems. Obscure peripherals for controlling other hardware. My front room all but disappeared. And there was software, too, including an extremely useful word processor called Tasword.
There was a lot to manage on my own, so I called in Mike and Phil to help. As an experiment we decided that Phil would send me his chapter on printers via our two 300-baud modems.
It was a 2k file. And it took all night…!
As it turned out, the book was hugely popular and extremely successful – so I got to do a lot more work for Granada, including two compendium volumes called The Complete Spectrum and The Complete Commodore 64. (I note that the Guide is still currently available on Amazon – and could be yours for a mere £1,567.99… 😉)
In a sense that was also the point where my partnership with Phil and Mike – Asgard Publishing Services – was born. Because soon afterwards we worked as a team on another title, The BBC Micro Add-On Guide.
As it turned out few, if any, of the manufacturers wanted their kit back. In the case of the keyboard that was just as well, because the ‘dead flesh’ keyboard on my Spectrum (as Mike christened it) died about two weeks into the job. But it meant, in the end, that I probably had the best and most powerful Spectrum setup in the county, if not in the country.
And that was the point at which my cherished golfball typewriter became effectively redundant. I had started using a word processor – and I never looked back.