Belfast Telegraph

In a world of tweets and emails, we still need read letter days

By Claire Harrison

When did you last write a letter to someone? I mean a proper letter to a friend or loved one, in your own handwriting. When did you last craft a correspondence with a personal touch?

Modern methods of communication mean we're more in touch than ever before. But aren't we also losing something from the art of letter writing by replacing it almost entirely with texts, tweets and emails? I sometimes worry that younger generations will have no idea how to construct a letter properly, let alone a sentence that isn't packed with words truncated to within an inch of their lives.

If ever I needed a reminder of the importance of letter writing, it came in the form of a beautiful book called Letters of Note which I got as a Christmas present. Compiled by a writing enthusiast called Shaun Usher, it's a door-stopper which brings together scores of letters with significance for various reasons.

There are letters from a mother to a daughter, a Queen to a US President and a killer to his hunter. There's a job application from Leonardo da Vinci and a letter of thanks from the Campbell's Soup Company to Andy Warhol.

They are funny, insightful, entertaining, chilling, prophetic, emotional and memorable. Some aren't particularly well written (Jack the Ripper needs a few lessons), some are heart-stopping. But what they all have in common is proving the power of the letter. They each uniquely capture thoughts from a writer describing a particular moment in time.

Coincidentally, when I was just a few pages into the book, I got a phone call from my mum to say she'd been clearing out a cupboard and found a letter I'd written to her when I was eight.

I won't embarrass my older sister by telling you the content, but the gist of it was an official complaint about her babysitting skills. It was nothing but a silly letter written by a cross child but is now its own letter of note, revealing an amusing moment of time that would never have been remembered otherwise.

What Usher hopes his book will do is encourage people to once again take up the mighty pen and write their own letter of note.

I used to love writing letters. As a teenager, I had countless pen pals all over the world and there was nothing I loved more than arriving home from school to find a letter waiting with an American or Greek stamp attached. I still have one friend from school who I insist on writing to at least once a year. We could text or make friends on Facebook, but we both enjoy getting an old fashioned letter through the post now and then.

What I miss most from the medium of electronic communication is not seeing someone's handwriting because you can tell a lot from it. In the book, many of the documents are typed but the most insightful are those in the writer's own hand.

I always notice and admire beautiful penmanship (perhaps in light of my own terrible scrawl, made worse by years of shorthand abbreviations). I think there is true art in fine handwriting and it's sad to hear the debate on whether children still need to be taught joined-up writing in light of the proliferation of keyboards in our lives. Can't they be taught both?

Think back to the last time you sat down and put your thoughts down on paper. Wasn't it a more thoughtful, satisfying experience than rattling out an email?

Think about the last time you received a letter in the post, written on beautiful paper, and you knew instantly who it was from because of the familiar handwriting. Wouldn't it be a crime for that to die?

I'm not saying ditch the emails and texts. I'm just saying don't forget about the humble handwritten letter and the thought it can convey. So take Usher's advice. It doesn't matter who you write to or what about, it will no doubt be a letter of note to the recipient.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph