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A letter writing challenge from a bookseller’s perspective

Article by The Bookseller © 12 February 2012.
Posted in Guest Blogs ().

I have Twitter to thank for my introduction to American writer Mary Robinette Kowal’s February letter writing challenge. This has a certain irony as my social media use has edged my letter writing into a smaller and smaller corner of my social interaction. Even my old pen friend in Lancashire now tends to receive more Facebook messages than proper letters. My only regular snail mail contacts are my parents and that is only because they choose not to have internet access.

This all makes me an ideal candidate for a spring letter writing challenge. Mary says:

“I have a challenge for you. When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? December sees a lot of mail and you remember that sense of delight when the first card arrives. You can have that more often. That’s what sparked The Month of Letters Challenge The rules are simple. 1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch. 2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items. If you are in the US all you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again. Feeling intimidated? It’s fewer words than NaNoWriMo and I know how many of you do that. Can you mail a letter a day?”

I really, really do love coming home to letters and postcards on the doormat. In addition, I have a soft spot for epistolary novels of all shades and hues. I suppose the best known in recent years of this genre is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Ann Schaffer, which has been tremendously popular with our customers since it was first published.

Novels either composed entirely or substantially of letters have rarely been out of fashion, though they have been parodied too (for instanceShamela by Henry Fielding) One of the earliest published was Aphra Behn’s Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684). This, I have discovered is an example of a dialogic epistolary novel, or one composed of two voices. It was a novel based on a real sexual and political scandal of the time (names changed to protect the not so innocent). Sadly it is not in print at the moment (my copy is a Penguin Classic from 1996).

A colleague reminded me about the letter written to Anne by Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, which inspired me to go hunting on the shelves so that I could re-read it. Well, it is the season for a well-penned love letter after all. I have also been recently browsing through a collection of historic letters by famous people as part of a book reading challenge that I have set for myself on my blog. It is amazing what you can discover from reading other people’s letters, whether of life, love or political shenanigans.

My progress to date on the letter writing challenge has been patchy I have to admit. I started quite well but I lost ground here and there so I have overcompensated by doubling up some days. It is also sadly true that so far, I have sent more postcards than letters but I aim to improve on that before the end of the month.  Maybe I can award myself six out of ten for effort. Now, where did I put those stamps?

If you are interested in the challenge, check out http://Lettermonth.com or follow on Twitter @LetterMo

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