I caught up with Kathryn Hughes to discuss her latest novel THE LETTER and discovered her passion for the art lost art of letter writing. Find out what she had to say and see if it will help inspire you to pick up a pen and write a postcard or two.
‘On 4th September 1939, Billy Stirling, the hero of my novel THE LETTER, sat down to write the eponymous missive to his sweetheart, Chrissie, which would change both their lives forever. Unfortunately for Billy, she did not receive the letter and it turned up unopened in a charity shop some thirty-four years later, thus altering the course of not only their lives, but many others too.
I began thinking about why we hardly ever seem to write letters anymore. One reason, surely, has to be the ease of communicating by email. Why bother with a letter when we can send an email that will arrive instantly, requires no scrabbling round for a pen and paper – or indeed a stamp – and will have been spell-checked? In the digital age, we have no choice but to move with the times, but the demise of letter writing is surely a lost art to grieve over.
When the postman thrusts his bundle through my letterbox, I will take a cursory sift through the various envelopes, putting to one side any that look like a demand for payment. Sometimes though, lurking beneath the bills, junk mail and flyers offering two pizzas for the price of one, will be a handwritten envelope, which always provides a frisson of excitement. A handwritten envelope is almost never bad news. It may be a birthday card, a thank you letter or, best of all, an invitation.
These days, to receive a birthday card on time shows the sender actually remembered your birthday, instead of reacting to a reminder from Facebook on the day itself. It demonstrates a degree of care and planning and, more importantly, will be a permanent testament to your thoughtfulness. Fifty years later, I still have all the cards that were sent to me on my first birthday.
A handwritten letter shows thought, a personal touch, and above all, effort. The sender will have chosen stationery, used a fountain pen perhaps, written in their best handwriting and trundled out to the nearest post-box – all of which combine to make the recipient feel more special. There is still one such instance, however, in which only a hand written letter will ever do – in the case of bereavement. These letters will not only give you a chance to express your sorrow in the most personal way, but they will be treasured for months, years even, and bring immense comfort to the recipient long after they were written.
It’s not just letters that have fallen victim to the cyber-age. How many of you, I wonder, will bother to send a postcard from your holiday? Why would you when you can instantly send a text, together with a photo of yourself supping your third Margarita on your own balcony? But a postcard is something more permanent. When I worked in an office, the noticeboard was covered with postcards from staff, some going back years. Nobody had the heart to throw them away. It might have been a chore to write one in the first place, and you may very well have arrived back home before the card itself. But it shows you cared enough to go to the shops, pick out a suitable depiction of your destination and enquire of the shopkeeper in heavily accented English ‘How much to England?’
However you decide to communicate with your friends back home, I do hope your holiday is a fantastic one that you will remember for years to come.
We hope this inspires you to put pen to paper and write to your friends and family now and again, even if it is just a holiday postcard.