The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Posted on 16th August, 2018

The other day a young neighbour - let's call her Lucy - invited me to a dolls' tea-party. When it was time to leave, I asked her what she was going to do next, at which point her mum stepped in and said firmly that Lucy was going to have her bath. Lucy then politely asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to write a letter to my pen friend.


"What's a pen friend?"


I explained. I made the mistake of saying that Jennifer and I had never actually met, thinking this made our pen-friendship all the more interesting, but instead it led to a brief diversion into the world of Stranger Danger. There's nothing quite like being lectured to by a 6-year-old. Meanwhile, Lucy's mum lurked in the background, grinning her head off.


Once the explanation was back on track, Lucy found the idea bizarre. "Why don't you email? Text? Skype one another?"


"Well, because we're pen friends and that means we put pen to paper and write letters to one another."


"What colour do you use?"


Another brief diversion, this time into the question of Lucy's favourite felt tips. She likes yellow, but how easy would that be to read on white paper? And what about writing with a Pritt stick and then sprinkling glitter on?


At some point, I said that Jennifer and I have been writing to one another for nearly 30 years.


"30 years?" She appeared suitably awed. "Do you write about what it used to be like in the First World War?"


Cue howls of laughter from Mum.


Am I alone in being a letter-writer? Does everyone else Skype these days? Or communicate purely by email? My late Auntie Amy used to love receiving letters even more than phone calls. A letter could always be taken out and re-read and enjoyed all over again; it could be shared with her friend, Elsie.


My mum and I wrote to one another every week for years after I left home; this was as well as phoning one another. Writing letters seems to have been pretty normal practice back then. It was a standard way of keeping in touch. I also corresponded for years with my gran, with a particular uncle and aunt, and with various friends who lived at a distance; and with my pen friends.


Do you write letters? Do you have, or have you ever had, a pen friend? And have you recently been lectured by a 6-year-old? Do tell!




Make A Comment

Characters left: 2000

Comments (10)

Like a cave that receives intermittent light from passersby's flashlights, are comments on the archaic form of letter writing! If only more would find the unmarked trail that led back to it! Based in the US, I enjoyed this piece. On the hunt for another male penpal, if there be any!
Thanks, Jen. Lovely to hear from you, as always. I too used to have more pen friends, but Jennifer is the only one I am still in touch with. I wonder of any of your old pen pals have read your books!
What a lovely post, Susanna. I still enjoy writing letters although do so much less frequently than I used to. Growing up, I had numerous pen friends (pen pals as they're called in Canada) but sadly have lost touch with all of them.

It's wonderful that you're still in touch with Jennifer and your conversation with Lucy made me roar with laughter. I haven't been 'lectured by a 6-year-old' recently but am regularly 'lectured' by my fourteen-year-old daughter...including a 'tutorial' just an hour ago on tips for using my new mobile!

Thanks for reminding me of a special part of my life and the importance of handwritten letters in a digital world.
Writing and receiving letters used to be a big part of my life - as I'm sure it used to be for many other people too. But letter-writing just isn't the way of the world any more. Such a shame. I'm very glad that I still have Jennifer as my pen-friend after all these years.
I love getting and writing letters. When I was a uni lots of people used to write to me, as we didn’t have mobiles back then but then along came email and Facebook. Pre-Freya I still used to write to one friend from college but post-Freya I only manage to write twice a year (birthday and Christmas). I love that you have a penfriend.
Thanks for your lovely long reply, Cass. I'm glad Lucy and I have inspired you to think about writing letters again. And for the record, my favourite colour for ink is turqoise.
Oh my, I loved this post, Susanna!

Lucy's comments are hilarious and sweet at the same time.

I used to love writing letters. I'm ashamed to say I don't put physical pen to paper any more, but reading this has made me miss it. I used to write letters all the time, especially when I first married my husband because we moved away from everyone to a new part of the country. I've kept them all, too, which makes me want to go and dig them out and have a good read (which I can't because they're all in the loft back in our UK house).

I had a pen pal in school, but I found I was more keen on the letter writing thing than my UK pen pal was and it ended. I think it's fantastic that you still write to your pen friend.

I've got the urge to go out and find a new pen pal now and start writing letters again, and inspired by Lucy, I think I'll choose a pretty ink (though not yellow!)
You're right, Louise - it was a real "ouch" moment, but very funny at the same time. I was intrigued to learn that Lucy hadn't heard of pen friends. Will today's children grow up without them, do you think?
I loved the conversation with Lucy. Children are so funny - especially the bit about remembering WW1. Ouch!
Thanks, Julie and Jenn, for the replies via Twitter.