The Magical Music of Harry Potter

The Letters Page

2 December 13 words: Sue Barsby
"Does your heart stop at a notification on Facebook, the way it might have if you saw your lover's handwriting on an envelope?"
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Dear LeftLion Reader,

You may wonder what on earth this is. A letter? You might say, in 2013? Who on earth sends a letter, except my gran?

And you'd be right. Letter writing is undervalued in these days of texting, Twitter and Facebook. Even email is considered passe. Where would we be without our phones? But be honest now, does your heart stop at a notification on Facebook, the way it might have if you saw your lover's handwriting on an envelope? Is a Skype call as satisfying as an airmail letter that you can read over and over again? Can you bundle your texts up with a ribbon?

At least two books about letter writing have been published this year, discussing the form’s past glories (Simon Garfield) and famous correspondence (Letters of Note). In a way, the existence of these give credibility to the theory that letter writing is dead. That particular story has finished, here’s its biography, now we can move on. Yet, a new Nottingham-based journal has revived the art - yes, it is an art - to publish a series of themed letters three times a year.

Letters were the main form of writing I undertook for many years. Letters and diaries. For a long time I too didn’t value them but just took them for granted. And yet, looking back now that I don’t write them so often, it’s clear to me that they taught me a great deal about how to express myself. My most successful stories have also been written in letter form though I fear this is not something I will be able to rely on for future story success.

Or will I? For The Letters Page is about to publish its second edition.

The Letters Page is a literary journal in letters. Edited by Jon McGregor, writer in residence at University of Nottingham, Jon started it by inviting ideas about creating it. What should its form be? What aims should it have? He encouraged interested parties to correspond to the letters page of a literary journal that didn't yet exist. Correspondents immediately seized on the letter as a format that had the potential to deliver fascinating, thought-provoking writing. The Letters Page was born.

The first issue focused on letter writing as a theme and featured contributions from all over the world, from Magnus Mills, Xu Xi and Ann Hull. They contain the same ephemera, stories, gossip and insight that you might find in your texts, Facebook statuses or tweets but somehow letters carry more poignancy, more time, more visual prompts than those transient missives will ever manage. As I read the journal I pictured the paper, the pen, the room they were written in much more than I ever would consider the conditions of a text. I imagined the writer. Did Magnus Mills write from his bus? And I saw the child described in Clare Wigfall's letter as clearly as if I'd sat across from him myself.

Letters have survived for centuries. Scholars pore over them to discover past worlds. They have carried secrets, intimacies, passion, heartbreak and betrayal. “It can also be a very good way of turning a casual acquaintance into a friend,” says Jon McGregor. “The aura of privacy which a letter carries, the sense that you're not just adding something else to the datastream that could be forwarded or copied at will, encourages a sometimes surprising level of revelation.” (Confession: I stole this quote from an article Jon wrote and which lives on the internet, proving his point nicely.)

It seems unlikely that in one hundred years we’ll be looking to Facebook to help scholars in the same way. In one hundred years Facebook will probably be obsolete, assuming of course that the doomsayers are wrong and we haven’t run out of the energy needed to run all this online data. We are in danger of becoming the generation lost to history because of our reliance on online communication. But letters will live on.

The Letters Page is accepting submissions, which of course must be made by handwritten letter, sent via our beleaguered postal service (another victim of undervaluing letters) to the University of Nottingham. For more details go to theletterspage.tumblr.com

You can download the journal and read it on your phone, on your tablet or, may I suggest, perhaps radically, printing it off for repeated reading enjoyment? And that way, you can also post it to a friend if you so desire, perhaps including a handwritten note of your own. Go on, revive a tradition. Your gran will appreciate it.

Yours,

Sue Barsby

The launch of the second issue of The Letters Page is on Monday 9 December at 6pm, Antenna, Beck St, free but you do need to book a ticket.

The Letters Page - event website

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