Why It’s Time to Revive the Vanishing Art of Letter Writing
Five years ago, Jodi Ann Bickley pledged to write one million lovely letters to people across the world. She reveals how her journey with Cunard, which has delivered mail for nearly 180 years, provided both time and inspiration to put pen to paper.
By Nigel Kendall
“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls / For thus, friends absent speak.” The poet John Donne wrote these words nearly 400 years ago to the author and diplomat Sir Henry Wotton. Today, in the age of instant text messaging, social media and email, they ring truer than ever, because the writing or receiving of a real letter has become such a rare event.
A UK-wide survey undertaken by Cunard and Sunday Times Style suggests that one in four of us has not received a written letter for at least 10 years. That’s 10 years without the bitter-sweet pleasure of pacing the floor waiting for the postman; 10 years without recognizing the handwriting on an envelope and eagerly tearing it asunder to reveal its contents; and 10 years without the physical proof that someone cares enough about you to create a one-off work of art for your enjoyment.
We may not get them any more, but we still love handwritten letters: in the same survey, one third of British people said they remember the content of sentimental letters.
“As I get older,” says John O’Connell, author of For the Love of Letters: The Joy of Slow Communication, “and friends and family die off, physical letters feel like holy relics – little pieces left behind. We have this idea that our digital footprints will stick around forever, and in a sense they will. But how accessible will they be? There are emails I sent 15 years ago that I’d love to see again but I have no idea how to get hold of them.” Shouldn’t we all make time to give our friends and family something they’ll treasure forever?
Jodi Ann Bickley certainly thinks so. In 2013, the-then 24-year-old Bickley set out to inject a dose of warmth into peoples’ lives. She went online and offered to handwrite a letter to anyone who contacted her. Her website received 50,000 visitors in its first three months.
Five years later, she is still the main force behind onemillionlovelyletters.com, and has personally written 4,000 letters offering hope, support and comfort to strangers since. In recognition of her contribution to letter writing, she was invited on board Cunard’s ship, RMS Queen Mary 2, where she found the quality of service and her surroundings conducive to her craft.
On recount of her experience, being at sea with Cunard gives you time to reflect, to breathe in the fresh air, gaze out at the wide-open views, and put pen to paper in luxurious surroundings. Cunard has been delivering mail for nearly 180 years and has inspired generations of writers. Charles Dickens recorded his voyage on board the RMS Britannia in 1842, while in 2017 singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran created parts of his ÷ (Divide) album on board the Cunard flagship RMS Queen Mary 2. She also has a red Royal Mail letterbox where guests can post their postcards and letters to loved ones as they travel the world.
她描述说，当邮轮行驶海上，人们有充足时间思考，呼吸清新空气，眺望开阔海景，在豪华环境中执笔。冠达邮轮传送信件已将近180年，激发了好几代作家的创作灵感。小说家查尔斯·狄更斯记录了他1842 年乘坐冠达邮轮“不列颠号”航行的经历，创作歌手艾德·希兰则于2017 年在冠达邮轮旗舰“玛丽皇后2号”上创作了专辑《÷》中的部分作品。此外，“玛丽皇后2号”设有一个红色的皇家邮政邮筒，乘客可在游历世界之时给所爱之人寄去明信片与信件。
Letters weave their spell on the writer as much as the recipient. “The only time I ever truly relax is when I sit down to write a letter,” Bickley says. “Making the time to take a pen in your hand and write – I see it as a type of mindfulness.”
The survey also suggests that one third of us are put off the idea of writing a letter by a lack of confidence about structure. How much does Bickley plan ahead? Does she have a formula? “No. I literally never draft a letter. I think when you write something down for the first time, that’s often the one with the most feeling in it. If I start a letter and I can’t write it, I never want it to seem forced, so I stop and return to it later.”
The thought behind a letter matters just as much as its content. “I never tell anyone that everything’s going to be OK, because I can’t know that,” says Bickley. “I am letting someone know that there’s someone in the world who cares about them.”
Who wouldn’t love to receive a letter like that? Let’s get writing.