Some suggest that the art of letter writing is dead: killed by the many other forms of communication available to us today. My family is distributed around the UK and my friends, around the world. I can talk to them by phone. I can communicate via the internet using either email or instant messaging. I can even set up a video link so we can talk face to face. But, for me, a letter fills the gap that these other more immediate channels cannot match. My letters are more contemplative: they have had more thought put into them. And, best of all, I can now choose to illustrate them.
My personal letter writing began while I was in the British army during the 1960s; love letters to my girlfriend, and a description of my daily life to family. In those days the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) had tendrils which stretched around the globe. Wherever you were serving, in Australia, Hong Kong or places closer to home like Germany, Malta or Cyprus, your letters home went by the fastest possible route.
My letters still go by the fastest possible route – attached to emails. It did take some time to determine the best format to send. Not everyone can read a Microsoft Word file, and while in the late 1990s I used to write to a friend in Canada by putting web-page files on a floppy disk and send it by snail mail. It was a very cumbersome method, but it was more reliable than trying to transfer over the internet at the slow speeds that were available 15 years ago. Now I merely create the illustrated letter in Open Office (the free competitor to Microsoft Office) and save it as a PDF (page description file). On a recent letter comprising almost 1000 words and 12 pictures the file size was over 6MB as an Open Office file whereas the PDF came out at under 1MB.
As can be seen I use a standard A4 sheet split into two columns for my letters. The columns serve two purposes. The first is that for text to be read easily then there should be no more than 10 words to a line. Second is that the column width restricts the size of the pictures.
I find it easier to write letters to friends in foreign lands than I do to write to family. To those overseas the life and countryside of Britain is just as exotic as Brits regard life in Bangkok, Brisbane or Boston. The letter above was written about a day out with friends. With the pictures it ran to two and a half pages. With family the letters can be about more mundane matters. Family want to know about your health – especially when you get to be an old codger like me. Even telling them that you are eating well can give them reassurance – hence the following picture.
And no! I didn't add French fries or chips after the picture was taken.
The great thing about using snapshots to illustrate letters is that mundane subjects become more interesting with pictures. One thing about the British is that all other conversations fail you can always talk about the weather.
Some people find it difficult to write. I'm one of them. With letter writing I get over it by doing it over a longer period of time. I may jot down notes during the day and then spend 10 minutes or so typing them up in the evening. I have a rule in my writing to friends and family. My letters are about communicating my ideas, thoughts and actions: they are not an English language essay that needs to be marked by a teacher. As you get to writing on a regular basis then it becomes easier.
So, entertain your friends and family with snippets from your life and keep the art of letter writing alive.