It’s for you!

Don’t you love to receive a letter? A hand-written and just for you letter?

Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, So Many Ways to Begin, and a short story collection, This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to someone like you is professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham. He edits a journal called The Letters Page, which brims with humour, seriousness, great writing, illustrations and ‘paratext’ – those scribbles, alterations and random marks that make a page more than the words written/printed on it. The journal, though digital, prefers to receive hand-written letters (probably for the paratext). I was fortunate to have a letter published in the ‘in house’ pilot journal – compete with computer generated coffee stain on my subversively word-processed submission. I’m delighted to have now been published in Issue 6 of the www available edition, wonderfully illustrated by Gwen Burns.


The red bits, writing and margin lines, folds above = paratext. Read it and be thankful not to be selling windows (unless you do, of course, in which case you might be glad of the work, and who could blame anyone for that?)

The top left scribble, emblem, emblem print (bottom), folds and discolouration below = paratext



Fear of typing

When Jon McGregor* gave his first Short Talk About Lunch,
he insisted usb-typewriter-1all the students typed their names on his attendance list using the typewriter he’d brought on a trolley. (Along with doughnuts and Satsumas – there’s nothing like free food to motivate students.) Some of the students, being of a more conventional student age than myself, had never touched a typewriter in their lives.

There were questions such as: So how do you insert a space? How do you go down to the next line?’ What do you do to make letters into capitals?  I confess, I was amused by their lack of awareness that the invention of the computer keyboard was not original in concept, merely a development.

Though I’ve thought a lot about my radio drama script, written the synopsis of it, character studies, research information etc, etc, I hadn’t written much of it at all and was beginning to panic. Then it occurred to me, ‘Helena, you don’t need to have read every book about writing for radio that you can get your hands on BEFORE you write.’ Ah ha! That was it.

This week I’ve pretty much completed the first draft, it’s flowed and flowed from the heart. I gave myself permission to proceed in this order:

  • Write
  • Make minor changes to ensure continuity and consistency
  • Check factual accuracy
  • Read about radio and radio writing to inform the penultimate edit of the script
  • Penultimate edit
  • Gather feedback from mentor, Writing Group, any other willing reader, and the actors at a read through
  • Final edit
  • Done

A liberating process that’s revived my enthusiasm and flagging confidence. I’m hopeful that this approach has led to a script in which the emotions of the characters, and their voices, are raw and natural. Now I just have to guard against editing the life out them. That’s a post for another day.

* Jon McGregor is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, author of three novels and a collection of short stories, all of which I highly recommend. (Not that I’m a creep, you understand.) He is also editor in chief of The Letters Page, a literary journal in, as you might have guessed, letters. You might like to subscribe, and it is open for submissions.