A love of letters – Guest Post by Menna van Praag
We are delighted to welcome author Menna van Praag onto the A&B blog today. If you share a passion for letters and stationery, read on.
For the rest of April, Menna’s latest letter writing-inspired novel, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, is just 99p on Kindle UK. Why not treat yourself!
Everyone at Allison & Busby.
Do you send thank you notes? Postcards? Full length letters? Do you own beautiful embossed stationery sets? Pens? Stamps? Perhaps even wax and a monogrammed seal? I do. I adore letter writing. I love sending letters, I love receiving them. Every day, like a little girl, I rush to the front door as soon the post drops to the mat. Of course, my anticipation is usually crushed by a flood of unrequested catalogues or undesired missives from the City Council and HMRC. However, I’m blessed with several friends who love letters almost as much as I do, so occasionally my hope is rewarded by that most glorious of things: an envelope, addressed by hand.
In fact, it was one such friend, Ashley, who inspired The Lost Art of Letter Writing. We were sitting in a cafe, enjoying tea and crumpets of a sunny Sunday morning. At one point we started talking about stationery, instantly discovering a shared passion for paper surpassed only by our love of buttered crumpets. We shared how we always felt a little giddy upon stepping into a stationery shop, how our hearts beat a little faster at the sight of handmade cards and ancient typewriters and never-ending shelves of notebooks. We talked about the sensuality of thick cream paper between our fingers, the rich, sharp smell of ink, the sumptuous flow of a fountain pen on the page…
Then fantasy took flight and we spoke of opening our very own stationery shop in one of Cambridge’s many secret streets. And the crumpet-scented air crackled, suddenly alive with possibility, desire and a dash of magic. I’ve always felt there’s magic in the realisation of long-cherished dreams, even if only when first spoken aloud. Desire, blood red and gold edged, is inspiring and infectious.
As soon as I returned home I started to write. I imagined our stationery shop in its every glorious detail. And, as I am wont to do, I added a dash of magic too. I saw a tiny shop tucked away on St Edward’s Passage. Its walls papered with the love letters of famous correspondents: Napoleon and Josephine, Victoria and Albert, Marie and Pierre Curie… Its dark oak cabinets crammed with writing papers in a thousand different designs. Its shelves heavy with a rainbow of notebooks, bound in leather, swathed in silk, embossed in gold. Each entirely unique. And upon the lettered walls hung six glass boxes lined in velvet, large enough only to contain a single fountain pen. With one John Lennon had composed Imagine, with another Daphne du Maurier had written Rebecca, with a third Quentin Blake had illustrated Matilda…
And then something rather special materialised in the corner of the little shop: an ornate Victorian writing desk of mahogany and mother-of-pearl, containing a dozen drawers – one curiously and impossibly locked – overflowing with epistolary paraphernalia. And, once the scene was set, the protagonist walked onto the page. Clara Cohen, whose habit it is to tread the streets of Cambridge, glancing into the windows of the houses she passes (which is, I confess, also a nosy habit of mine) and taking note of the people she sees. Upon returning to her little shop, Clara sits at the desk and writes letters, to those she only knows by address but not by name. These are letters that will transform the lives of those who receive them, letters they’ll treasure forever, although they’ll never know by whom they were sent. One day Clara writes herself a letter that sets her off on an adventure leading to family secrets hidden for centuries and, perhaps, even to finally unlocking that stubborn drawer…