My girl Shirley in Wave Me Goodbye writes to her Mum. It’s the start of the Second World War and Shirley has been evacuated to safety in the country. Imagine how you’d feel if your Mum woke you up one morning and told you that you were being sent off with your school to the country to stay with total strangers!
This really happened to hundreds and thousands of children living in big cities in Britain during the last war. Many were very homesick and badly wanted to get in touch with their families. There were no mobile phones then, no tablets, no computers. Letters were the only method of communication, though you could send a telegram in an emergency.
You might find an old trunkful of letters in an attic now, bringing back all kinds of memories. That’s the really good thing about letters. They can be saved, sometimes for hundreds of years. You can’t do that with emails or text messages. I think letters are still a very important and special personal way of keeping in touch with people you love. Here are my top five tips on writing a letter.
1. Set out your letter properly!
Most important of all, remember to put an address at the top of the page so that they can write back to you! It’s helpful to put the date too. Hand-writing is more personal than a typewritten letter, but try to make your writing as neat as possible, so it can be easily read. Using different coloured felt tips can look very pretty, but it takes a long time, and yellow pen doesn’t really show up properly on the page.
2. Punctuation and spelling (don’t groan!)
When we text we use all kinds of abbreviations, simply because it’s much quicker and easier. When you write a letter use proper words and try to remember to use capital letters and full stops and paragraphs. Spelling is important too, especially if your letter is to an older person. If you don’t know how to spell a word google it or look it up in a dictionary. Try to keep your lines as straight as possible. I know this sounds very fussy and too much like a school exercise but it really does make a big difference. You can’t send an emoji with your letter once you've finished – but it’s much more fun to do your own little picture if you like drawing.
3. Think about the content!
Try to work out why you’re getting in touch with this loved one. Do you simply miss them very much? Have you got something incredibly exciting to tell them? Has something dreadful happened? Have you discovered a secret that they need to know? Are you simply desperate to know how they are and what they’re doing? Make sure you have a rough idea of what you want to include before you start writing.
4. Try to make your letter interesting!
A fond Grandma might be happy with a letter that simply says: Dear Nan, I miss you. It’s boring here. Love so-and-so. Personally, I’m a bit more demanding! I’d want all the details in your letter; lively descriptions, interesting vocabulary. I'd want it to be such a brilliant letter that it’s as absorbing as a wonderful story. Don't be afraid to get creative!
5. Don’t give up after 10 minutes!
You might be keen to make a start, and have a great idea fizzing inside your head, but by the time you’ve finished the first paragraph you’re starting to get fidgety, your whole hand is aching, and you want to look at something on your tablet. I know exactly how you feel. The same thing happens to me every day when I write my stories! But try to work hard for half an hour, really concentrating. Then give yourself a break – but come back to your letter later if you don’t get it finished. You’ll get a lovely feeling of satisfaction when it’s done and you know you’ve really tried your hardest. And you will put a smile on the face of the loved one you send your letter to.