Saturday, 24 September 2011

My Love of Writing : Family Letters

This morning I started reading The Shadow of the Wind and already I am completely bewitched. In it, the character Daniel Sempere, describes his passion for fountain pens and immediately I was transported to my father’s study.

For as long as I can remember my father always wrote with a fountain pen. I don’t think I ever saw him use an ordinary ink pen, unless it was passed to a client to sign his or her insurance papers. My memory of my father writing is always holding a fountain pen.
Since very early in my childhood the giving and receiving of letters and note-cards played a significant part in my family life. From a tender age I learned to love writing. When I was around five years of age my aunt and cousin emigrated to Australia and letters were frequently passed betwixt my family. Many is the time I would come home from school and find my mother ensconced on the settee, lost in a letter from her sister. The emotions they evoked; the pleasure and the pain I witnessed on my mother’s face; hearing her on the telephone excitedly telling my grandmother the latest letter had arrived; hours spent at my grandmother’s house, drinking copious cups of tea and exchanging letters – all filled me with a deepening love of writing.

When my mother emigrated to Australia four years later, it was my turn to write letters. Now I knew first-hand the effects of receiving a new letter, getting to know the style and colour of the aerogramme and airmail envelopes, the thickness of the folded letter inside, and the anticipation of reading its contents. I loved my mother’s writing; always so curly, neat and decorative. Her life, in the written word, lifted off the pages (Years later, she took calligraphy classes and further improved her individual style of writing). Two years later, it would be my turn to write letters to my father and my paternal grandmother. Then the love of writing letters using a fountain pen grew for me.

As I have already mentioned, my father always wrote with a fountain pen. All of his letters to me were written with flowing, blue ink. There were no blotches or spills, never once. I loved his writing style too, very neat and precise. His words flowed beautifully in the most perfect ink I had ever seen. When I returned to England for the first time since I had left, I sought out my father’s fountain pen. I desperately wanted to replicate his penmanship. I pleaded with him to tell me what pen he used in his letters to me. He told me it was an Osmiroid so I rushed to WH Smith’s in Lowestoft and bought myself one. I was so enthralled and so excited, I couldn’t wait to try it out. However, no matter how much I practiced, I could never replicate my father and his unique writing style. The ink wouldn’t flow properly, the nib would always snag or the ink would blotch everywhere. I was disappointed beyond words, but I never lost my love for the fountain pen or indeed pens in general.

Even today, more than twenty years later, I am still searching for the perfect writing pen. I have bought hundreds of different ball-point varieties and brands. I always prefer to use medium point as fine point simply irritates me. When I compose stories and for journaling purposes, I usually always turn to a Pilot ball-point pen. Even with my scrapbook journaling and page layouts, I prefer to always use medium point pens.

Where does my love of writing come from? The seed was planted during my formative years when I loved writing stories and letters. As a teenager, I was rarely seen without my diary and I kept one religiously for many years, buying only the best, beautifully crafted covers. During my late teens I joined a pen-pal service and enjoyed sharing letters with friends in Scotland, France, Germany and Sweden. The giving and receiving of family letters over the years, until the age of email and internet took away the more traditional methods, increased my love of story-telling.
Then there was my love of books, and the passion for researching my family history. Anybody who has seen an original document or transcription showing his or her ancestor’s very own handwriting knows the exquisite thrill it gives! This is my 4 x great-grandparent’s signature on their wedding certificate of 1846:

My paternal grandmother always used to tell me that I would be a writer. She had utmost faith that I had inherited her mother’s love of writing. For many years I automatically assumed that she only meant writing letters. It was not until recently that my father told me my great-grandmother wrote articles for the Beccles Parish magazine. I felt truly moved by that. As my maternal forebears were printers and stationers and postcard sellers, I also strongly believe that I have inherited their natural flair for the written and the printed word.

My great-grandmother


  1. That's interesting Debra...Years ago they seemed to take more care with their writing than we do now. My own grandfather had the most beautiful hand writing I've ever seen - each letter was exactly the same size. He said he was taught to write on graph style paper.

  2. Thank you Ann, for your comments and shared thoughts on your own grandfather. Handwriting is definitely a dying art but one which my family treasured. Even my daughter takes special care with her schoolwork, which is comforting to me! x

  3. Hi Debra,

    I really enjoyed this post. My Grandad used to write, not prose but notes and lists. He was a linguist and wherever he went he had his vocabulary ready, in his beautifully neat style.

    We would go birdwatching and he would list the date, the location and the birds observed. I used to sit beside him, watching him. Now those lists are everything to me.

    Many thanks,

    Steve Garnett

  4. Hi Debra

    A lovely post - and full of very moving thoughts about your family. It took me back to when my family and I left Oxfordshire for London when I was 12 - and I spent a lot of time sending letters to my best friend and reading hers to me. I now wonder whether all that letter writing helped me to develop my own love of writing. Today with emails and texts that letter-writing art is sadly lacking.

  5. Interesting post - my sister (born 1969) has a love of old pens and collects them. I am a few years older, and so had to have an ink pen for school work (always managed to mess up the nib with lumps of paper) but I won a Top Notch Inkpen in a raffle a few years ago, and my partner will not sign anything without using this pen - I didn't make much of an attempt to get used to it. I prefer a rubber-coated ballpoint as it makes my handwriting nicer (like it used to be before typing everything atrophied my hand writing). Use it or lose it, I reckon! Jo