Saturday, 19 October 2013

About old penpals

A few months ago Dan Purdue alerted me to this call to write a handwritten letter for a new journal, The Letter's Page, edited by Jon McGregor. Ooh, I said, that sounds right up my street.

Some reasons: I like making marks on a page, real pages. Especially with a biro, I'm okay without a fancy pen. I also like a little bit of autobiography, something from myself onto a page to someone else. That's what I loved about the Art House Co-op's Fiction Project (you can read about my experience with that here). I like making a real-life thing.

The Letter's Page theme for Issue 2 was 'pen pals'. Well, I've had a few of those. I got a bit obsessed by them in my teens, answering ads all over the place. At first - Smash Hits and (specialist) Take That fan magazines. Then later - a music magazine - I forget the name of it, it was monthly, with 'classifieds' in the back. I'd scan them looking for  mentions of bands I liked. Then I'd write to their PO Box and hope for the best. Most didn't reply.

I remember a girl who did, the same age as me (15). She wrote dark poetry (I did too, well - I dabbled) and she decorated her letters with glitter and pen drawings and told me how her and her friends would just go to the train station and catch a train anywhere. Just to, y'know, see where the day would take them. Oh my word I thought she was so cool. I wanted her to come and stay with us in the summer holidays. She didn't. I can't remember when/how we stopped writing. Maybe she was weirded out by my suggestion she come and stay at my house. I'd always wanted a sister. That's my excuse.

Before then, another girl. I was 13, she was older - 17ish. She was one I picked up from the (specialist) Take That fan magazine. She'd write really long letters, all about Take That. At some point she must have asked for my phone number because then she'd call me too, from a phone box, and we'd talk after school, maybe just once a month, but always all about Take That. Again, I'm not sure why we stopped writing / chatting. Maybe it was when I made the transition from being Take That's number one fan to Nirvana's. It was like I just flipped, changed, overnight. Hm, yeah, that is how it happened, and for totally superficial reasons. But she was nice. I wonder what happened to her.

And somewhere between 13 and 15 there was a man - who I hadn't expected to be a man when I replied to his classified in that music magazine. He was supposed to be my age, but he said the magazine had misprinted his ad, and actually he was 26. But he seemed ok, and he liked the bands I liked, so I wrote back. Then within a letter or two he was asking me very personal questions, and instead of just not writing back I wrote back and tried to avoid the questions by answering 'quirkily'. I see through it all now. Wish I had then.

And there were the letters I'd get from friends who I saw everyday at school. And my cousin, who I also saw everyday. We even had our own code to disguise the very secret things we must have been writing. These letters were not sent through the post but passed to each other at the start of the school day. And if you fell out with your friends, or they fell out with you, feelings were best articulated by a long and dramatic letter.

But my Letter's Page submission isn't about any of these pen pal experiences. It's about my very first pen pal, kind of, when I was 8, in 1989, when I behaved like a weirdo for a bit. That's all I'll say, because I might be lucky enough to have my letter selected for publication. If it isn't, I'll post the letter here. ('post')

The perils of writing by hand - you etch your words onto your desk


Here's the link where you can find Issue One of The Letter's Page. It's available to read as a PDF, and has some great pieces of letter writing. I was particularly moved by the one from Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.


Rachel Fenton said...

I'm looking forward to reading your letter!

I got out my two shoe boxes of letters when I saw your mention of The Letter's page - it coincided with some pretty, well, coincidental personal events, and I had to write a letter! So, thank you for that.

Sounds like you had a lucky escape with your creepy letter's man! Good thing you had Royal Mail between you - slow paced safety buffer. Not like the photo text of today! I miss the good ol' letters days.

Deirdre McClay said...

Hi Teresa,
I too sent a letter to The Letter's Page. A member of my writing group was published in the first volume (Ann Hull), so I was inspired to have a go. I must admit, I wrote a completely fictionised letter, though they take all sorts, I know - I wasn't very good at the real thing as a teenager. I had one penpal and we fizzled out after one letter each. I enjoyed your post on the writing of your letter. Fingers crossed for all. I enjoyed writing a handwritten letter again.

Deirdre McClay said...

Sorry, meant fictionalised!

Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Rachel - pleased to have prompted your letter-writin'. Being a receiver of real life post from you myself, I bet it was a great lovely real thing for the receiver to receive. And yes - about that creepy man - I am glad there was Royal Mail there - but also I note how odd it feels now that someone can have your address so easily. I know we give a lot of ourselves online now, so maybe it's daft to think that. But y'know.

Hello Deirdre - ooh you're a Letters Page submitter too - good luck with yours. Fictionalised (I knew what you meant :) ) sounds interesting, I wonder how many of the letters in the first issue were. Or maybe some were treading a line between the two. Thanks for stopping in and saying hello.