Helping to keep the art of letter writing alive

Photographer Bob Quinn with his work which is now on permanent display in Ros a Mhíl. Pic: Seán Ó Mainnín.
Photographer Bob Quinn with his work which is now on permanent display in Ros a Mhíl. Pic: Seán Ó Mainnín.

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

Time was when a letter home would involve getting out the old Basildon Bond stationary for an hour’s thought and writing, finding an envelope and a stamp and a post box – and your inner most thoughts dropped on the family doorstep two days later.

These days a message home arrives with a beep on your phone and a message in sparse English that says: “All well – c u l8r”.

The benefit of the latter is that the news couldn’t be more immediate; the disadvantage is that it might as well be a medical update as a mode of communication.

So for reason of expediency – and perhaps laziness – the art of letter writing is dying a slow, interminable death; communication these days has difficulty expanding beyond a badly written sentence.

A survey in the UK recently revealed that two-thirds of primary school children never write letters.

Frankly, the surprise is that one-third of them do.

And better still – if you think this was on the basis of compulsory writing in the classroom rather than the little mites getting out the pen and pad to put their thoughts onto a page – you’d be wrong again.

The National Literacy Trust study questioned more than 32,000 eight to 18-year-olds about their writing habits, including asking whether they write letters.

It found that one in four wrote a letter once a month outside of the classroom, with girls more likely to do so than boys (30 per cent over 23 per cent).

What won’t come as any surprise is that children who write letters are more likely to be better at writing than those who do not.

And that’s one good reason to breathe new life into the dying art of letter writing – but there’s a bigger one.

Someone once described writing a letter as the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door.

Frankly, there’s a train of thought which would suggest it’s even better because the recipient chooses what time to engage with the letter writer, as opposed to having an unannounced visitor banging the front door as you’re about to sit down to your tea.

But think about it – writing a letter involves planning and thought. You get out your writing implements and equipment, settle yourself at the table and think about where to begin.

You’d probably start with the traditional dance of letter writing – how are you; we’re all fine; bit about the weather; holidays if you had them; the little fella’s first step, tooth or first day in Junior Infants; work, school and so on.

Then there might be a bit of news on shared friends – or even a bit of gossip – the births, marriages and deaths section….and you’ve a page written already.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.