Dead Letters

Reading & Writing


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.

11 comments on “Dead Letters”

  1. Em says:

    This sounds like a great idea for an anthology and Conrad is a fantastic author. Any idea when it will be out?

    Bruce Sterling wrote some intersting stuff about how in the Eighteenth Century people could hack the postal system with coded addresses –

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Okay, there is something twisted in paragraph six or my short-term meds are quite out of whack this morning.
    You live up, right, and I seem to remember you once writing that you had to hump boxes of books and groceries UP to your flat.Yet, your postie – new Britishism, thank you, who refuses to deliver to your front door, prefers to chuck the post six floors Down.
    You toss it down to him/her? She/he tosses it up to up? You have moved to the sub-sub-sub, etc. basement right above the hidden river since that violent windstorm. You are just messing with us. (Or you are testing out an idea for a new B&M short? I’ve prepub ordered the Oxfam collection with the B&M story in it.)
    Or you’re talking about your newish place in Barcelona which is bunkerish. Care to clarify? The weekend’s coming and I may fret.

  3. Rh says:

    Down from where he’s up (at) Dan. Enjoy your weekend!

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Thank you, Rh: It sounds like his postie could qualify as a baggage handler. Have you seen those recent videos of handlers caught dropping passenger air baggage, including musical instruments, twenty feet to the bed of the transfer truck? Unbelievable.

  5. m says:

    Sounds like a fantastic anthology. How recently did they do multiple mail deliveries per day?

  6. snowy says:

    The second post went about 12 years ago, it was touted as a means to reduce costs and would lead to reduced postal charges, but we all knew it was just part of the plan to polish it up for selling off, (to their mates in the City).

    There was an interesting series about the development of the postal service a few years ago, which included a description of the sort of mis-use that Em mentioned, I’ll put a link to the one episode of the 15 that cover this above. (It’s a link to the BBC, so might not play in all regions)

    For those suffering from postmen a bit shy of stairs, ever considered ‘post restante’? Mail is held at a post office of your choice until you claim it, Perhaps not as convenient, but at least it will be there when you chose to collect it, and not in the canal and no annoying red cards insisting you were out, when you had waited in all day.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Google works now! It is one thing to read these posts out in the colonies, but something entirely other when you read it and realize you can walk out the door and go there. We should be in Kings Cross of course but the hotel wasn’t able to deal with labour problems in Iceland (!) so we’re over there behind the Tower of London. I hope to get to a couple of these spots before we move on. Anyone interested in a pub meetup? Have to work out a where and when, but these London pubs are a good start.

  8. snowy says:

    Welcome, to this tiny island.

    Can’t make it in for ‘drinkies’, but if you are prepared to be indiscreet about where you and K are staying Thursday-Friday I will put a tiny present in the post for you both.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy,we’re going to Brussels in the morning. I’m negotiating with the husband but we won’t be back here until the end of May. I wanted to plan ahead and should have a definite date/time/place by tomorrow. Your offer is so very kind.

  10. snowy says:

    Don’t rush, if you are going on the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. It’ll keep until you get back, [I only need a nod 3 working days in advance to get it in the post.]

    Enjoy the trip under the English Channel, [and don’t be at all concerned that I was involved in it’s construction; if all the bits I was responsible for disappeared in a puff of smoke, you’d hardlly notice. 😉 ]

  11. Colin Simmonds says:

    I was watching an episode of Poirot the other day in which he made reference to the 9:30pm postal delivery. PM!!! Such service seems like the stuff of fantasy to us today.

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