Men And Women Of Letters
A computer cannot replicate swirling arabesques of midnight blue ink on thick white paper.
Do you still write letters? If so, you’re in the tiny minority of people who do so. I’m an inveterate letter-writer. Although I enjoy online writing, it’s a convenience filled with codes and technicalities, not a relaxing affirmation of elegance. There’s nothing quite like having to marshal your thoughts in a graceful manner that will not let you erase them on the page. Over the years I’ve written to everyone from Ronald Searle to JG Ballard, and have nearly always got answers. (The letters themselves are probably down the backs of my bookshelves along with God knows what else – see passim).
My friend Jan, an ex-policewoman who patrolled my local streets, has a writing style that combines erudition and extremely bluntness with an enquiring sense of curiosity, so we end up sending nuggets of weird information back and forth.
But the person to whom I’ve written most frequently is the ‘Chocolat’ novelist Joanne Harris. Over the last ten years we’ve fired missives back and forth about everything from publishers and agents to home repairs, plot-creation, theatre, film and mutual acquaintances, including libellous gossip, scandal and opinionated rhetoric. Together we have accumulated this vast stack of correspondence.
One day we’ll have to put the two halves together chronologically and see if there’s anything worth publishing (probably not, but it would be a fun exercise!)
My partner complains that I get really interesting mail, not just junk and bills, but that’s because letter writing quickly becomes an epistolary tennis match, as you gauge your opposite number’s interests and respond to their quarter of the court with something you hope they’ll find appealing.
However, the Royal Mail has now doubled the price of a stamp in a determined effort to stamp out letter writing once and for all, so perhaps we’re the last generation to do this.