So, I was saying yesterday about how I’ve been looking through old letters, right? Well, one of the reasons they've been on my mind is because a book I wrote last year has just come out. It’s called Kind Regards and is basically an anthology on the lost art of letter-writing.
Yes, I love letters. Real letters. Hand-written letters. Ideally letters that have been written from the heart, rather than from duty. Honestly, how can you not love them? I have, not just the one box that I showed you yesterday, but a fair few boxes of old letters. I can throw away most things without a backward glance but not letters, and not photos. Reading old letters is like time travelling – it takes me back to the person I once was, with all my insecurities and anxieties and hopes and dreams. It reminds me of people who are no longer in my life. It’s a record of the loves and losses I have enjoyed and suffered over the years – my own personal history captured in ink.
Researching the book was a revelation. At times it was quite emotional. I knew many of the great letter-writers, but others came as delectable surprises. Tender and passionate love letters stole my heart. Tragic last letters from people facing death brought a lump to my throat. The correspondence between parents of sick or dying children made the mother in me weep.
Psychotherapists believe that writing letters – honestly and from the heart – acts as a powerful form of self-therapy; that it can bring clarity and a means of expressing emotions. Somehow the act of putting pen to paper gives a further depth and meaning to the words – one that an email can never quite duplicate. Do you have to send the letter? No. J
“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak.” John Donne
I have many beautiful letters in my collection and many that make me laugh out loud. For years my best friend Jane and I used to write long long letters to one another – looking over them makes me smile so much. We were so damn pretentious as teenagers – writing to one another in Latin, and quoting left, right and centre. But the one that really cracks me up is where she carefully transcribed all the lyrics from several Black Sabbath songs. Only downside? Her writing is atrocious!
Sadly there are no beautiful love letters in my collection. Maybe I never had poetic lovers. Maybe I just didn’t inspire beautiful letter writing. I do have one curious declaration of adoration from a guy who wrote me a (very long) short story about how I couldn’t love him because I loved my cat too much – and then went on to describe how the cat was stolen and had experiments conducted upon him and lost his mind (the cat, this is). Yeah, nice one, fella. And nope, he never got into my knickers! J
Then there were the weird sex psalms from this musician who had a wicked imagination and wonderful handwriting. I tell ya, I nearly fell into bed with him over the shape of his Ss alone. And, hilariously, the letter sent from a boyfriend when he was abroad and drunk. Followed (apparently the moment said letter had slipped from his fingers into a mail box in Paris) by a frenzied email begging me to ‘Burn it! Throw it away! Please. Don’t read it.’ Umm, yeah…well, what would you have done?
But love letters? Real true love letters? That stuff that scorches your soul? Nah. Nary the one. L
I mean…not letters like Katherine Mansfield wrote to John Middleton Murry… Not like those from John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas. Anais Nin to Henry Miller. Zelda to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Flaubert to Louise Colet. The list goes on and on. The kind of letters you would read again and again, hunting for yet more nuances, more levels of meaning.
But anyhow. J Modern lovers, mainly - it has to be said - the young (whose idea of romance is a quick text) could learn a bit. All I'd say is this: if you love, write a letter. Of course, it's not just about romance. A letter doesn't have to be about soul-rending love: write newsy letters, thank-you letters, "I'm thinking about you" notes, a "Hello" card...whatever... Write, not just to your lovers, but to your friends, your children, your parents. If you can’t bring pen to paper, then yes, an email will suffice but the thing is – you can’t unfold an email; you can’t smell an email; you can’t trace your finger over an email and know that the other person's hand has moved over the selfsame paper. Can you? A letter is a direct psychic link with another person – it’s way beyond physical.
Okay, so that’s a bit tangential and Kind Regards covers all manner of things to do with letters, not just soul attachments and so forth. There is a little bit of history, some snippets about stamps and envelopes and anecdotes about this and that, and even a few hints on how to write letters, for those who may have forgotten.
And, if the name on the cover looks unfamiliar? Well, what can I say? I used a pen-name. J
Kind Regards is published by Michael O'Mara Books. It's available now in the UK and on Kindle - released in the US in December.