My friend the writer Conrad Williams is rather good at coming up with ideas for anthologies. He created ‘Gutshot’, a superb ecollection of western-themed horror and fantasy (including my tale ‘The Boy Thug), and now he’s come up with another smart idea.
He decided to mail out a package to each of the authors he’d selected. Inside they’d find a ‘dead letter’, an envelope misaddressed or returned or lost, containing something odd. We were to treat these packages as inspiration for tales involving the contents of dead letters. We were not to enter into any correspondence with the sender, but simply write about them and return the stories. I’ve already done mine, entitled ‘Wonders To Come’, based on the above package I received.
This particularly appealed to me because three months ago I received, without apology, nearly thirty letters addressed to me dated from 2011 – thanks to staggering incompetence from the Royal Mail, who by my estimate lose half a dozen packages a year for me.
London once had eight posts a day. Back in the 1980s a popular TV show used to run a feature in which letters were sent to the show’s address with the minimum possible labelling. Sometimes viewers addressed their letters in code, or Latin, or pictograms, or cryptic clues – an amazing number of them got through, forwarded by enterprising postal staff.
Those days have sadly gone. Recently the Business Secretary Vince Cable remained in denial about his mishandling of the Post Office’s privatisation, in which he massively undervalued the share price and cost British taxpayers £750 million.
I like postal workers, who work hard and do their best against incompetent management (although I have one postie who refuses to deliver to my front door, preferring to chuck the post six floors down) and I hope they’re better served by the new arrangements – although when companies privatise under Conservative regimes they usually start cutting corners and raising prices. One such newly-privatised delivery system in London is currently undergoing a total meltdown after years of being successfully run.
So perhaps there will be more dead letters – although hopefully they won’t result in such alarming stories! ‘Dead Letters’, edited by Conrad Williams, is due out from Titan Books next year.