Men And Women Of Letters

Reading & Writing

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.

6 comments on “Men And Women Of Letters”

  1. glasgow1975 says:

    I write Thank You letters every Xmas & Birthday. . .a text just doesn’t seem right (write?) to me. . .

  2. Gretta says:

    By coincidence, one of the stories on the radio this morning was talk that postal deliveries in NZ might be cut from six days a week to three, because (they say) postal volumes have tumbled in the past six months.

  3. Steve says:

    The Post Office in the US is nearly bankrupt, and if it’s to continue the government will have to bail them out.
    I literally remember learning penmanship in the first and second grades…that would have made me six or seven years old. We used fountain pens, and they remain my favorite.
    Unfortunately the beautiful penmanship I developed as a child has been transmogrified into hen scratchings by the relentless advance of computer writhing. Er, “writing”.
    Do they even teach penmanship anymore? Somehow I doubt it. Shame, really. If the grid and cell services went down, there would be millions of people who wouldn’t be able to communicate at all.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    In the province of British Columbia there are even schools (well, one school) where the principal told a staff member that she was wasting time teaching spelling since the computer will give you corrections (!). Since so many teachers can’t write legibly any more, computerists all of them, it would be difficult for them to teach an art they haven’t mastered themselves. At our calligraphy meeting last night we were given a short workshop on flourishing – the swirls you can add to letters. Writing is not disappearing completely yet.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Helen: you do get involved in some interesting meetings. I have a Christmas gift from last year of a lovely Chinese 6-“pen” blue and white porcelain calligraphy set with boar bristles. I’d love to take lessons, but have had no time. I envy you.
    Question: If you wrote “Nottingham” in calligraphy class and added a flourish to the word’s last letter: “m”, would that then be the serif of Nottingham? You may use it, if you dare.
    Admin is so going to boot my laptop off of his blog, but I couldn’t help myself; and it was a British history-referencing question.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Oh Dan, that is such a great pun! I will save it for a good moment – May’s meeting perhaps when they are foolishly allowing me to act as chair. BTW, having the time is a matter of prioritizing.

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