Skip to main content

On attending Letters Live (twice)

Napoleon, Madonna, John Cheever, Jacqueline Kennedy, Iggy Pop, Zelda Fitzgerald, Lester Bangs, Fidel Castro, readers of the Guardian, my dad.

All these people have something in common.

They have written letters.

Another thing they all have in common? Me.

Earlier this month, I found myself surrounded by the literal written word. I became a reader, and listener, of letters written in the recent past and those written in a time relegated to the annals of history. I loved every moment. Apart from the handcrafted ode written to me by my father (more on that later), these letters were discovered as part of an extraordinary event called Letters Live.
An event like no other

Letters Live is an event that has been running for three years and this month I was lucky enough to attend it for the second time. My first encounter with the event was in March of this year. I witnessed the likes of Jude Law, Caitlin Moran, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, John Bishop, Bob Geldof and Miriam Margolyes transform into those who had penned letters to friends, loved ones, film producers and the State of New York Insurance Department. You would think that such a dazzling list of names would overshadow whatever the letters, and their authors, had to say. That was far from what happened. Instead, the wit and tragedy, the honesty and authenticity, of those letters meant they were the stars of the night. I mean, a letter written by a hung over Jane Austen to her sister the day after a ball? Come on! I love Benedict C but even he doesn’t hold a candle to a letter like that.

When I returned to the exquisite Freemasons’ Hall in October, the extraordinariness of the event was repeated… and then some. With the talents of such readers as Louise Brealey, Danny Boyle, Barry Humphries (a special highlight for this Aussie), Gillian Anderson and Sanjeev Bhaskar, the letters again came to life. We heard Napoleon lament about the lack of response from his love, Josephine. We heard Guardian readers debate about whether cats really were superior to dogs (answer: no), we heard the heart-felt lament of Joan Baez as she railed against the US government, and I expect we experienced a lump in our throats as Gillian Anderson read a letter written by Jacqueline Kennedy days after the death of her husband.

Letters Live moved me to laughter, tears, and back to laughter and I left the event thinking it would be a long time before I was again so moved. 

I was wrong.

A few days after my Letters Live experience, in a stroke of genius timing that couldn’t have worked out any better than if it had actually been planned, I returned home from a day of writing at the Barbican library to find an envelope with my address handwritten in a script I knew well.
It was a letter from my father.

The thrill of receiving my own piece of mail, a unique event in itself since I moved to London, was quickly replaced by a gamut of emotions that ranged from laughter, tears, and back to laughter.

My very own letter.

It was the perfect epilogue to my Letters Live experience and, who knows, it may end up at a future event as a letter written by the father of that famous author, who sent it to his daughter when she was a struggling, broke, unemployed aspiring writer who very much needed to hear from her dad after being away from home for eighty-eight days.

Letters are actually the best


  1. Nicolette! This sounds amazing. I would totally fly to London for this if it's on again. I'm such a letter writer. And before I left Australia I got lost for hours reading back over old letters from friends I'd kept. I'm sure people still roll their eyes when they check their mailboxes and ask each other if I've ever heard of Facebook. Oh and I'll definitely be at the Letters Live even where 'that famous author's' letter from her dad is read out :)

    1. Make sure you follow LL on Facebook so you know when the next event is on! So worth flying in for, absolutely [even if it doesn't yet include said famous author :)] Let your friends roll their eyes all they want, they love getting letters. I bet it makes their day!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

On brain freeze

Due to the inevitability of British Winter, my brain stopped working.  There will be a proper posting next week... probably.

On Arzak... a post in eleven dishes

Being a somewhat average human, with a somewhat average human's earning capacity, my experience of Michelin-starred restaurants is limited. So when I visited not only a Michelin-starred restaurant, but a 3-star Michelin-starred restaurant, you can bet I would be TELLING EVERYONE I KNEW ABOUT IT. Ahem. And so, I give you the degustation feast of restaurant Arzak, San Sebastian. A blog post in eleven dishes. Apparently not the start of the meal, just a teaser. Moringa and prawn (PINK) gyoza on the left. Banana and squid in the tree bamboo-thing on the right. Of course. (Forgive the crap photos - I took them in a blind panic not wanting to be 'that person' even though I was very clearly 'that person'.) Still haven't started yet. Just a taster! Marinated sardine and strawberry. Again, just a hint of things to come! 'Cecina' and kalamata on the right. Eel rod on the left with the log. I despair of people who never have a log on their dinne

On learning a new skill

So how many new skills have you mastered during this Covid-19? Are you fluent in Latin? French? Turkish? Is your personal brand lighting up Twitter/Instagram/Facebook as you sell the wellness candles you cooked up in the kitchen after you created an online festival but before finishing a new dress made from scraps around the house you can wear when you next meet a friend for ‘exercise’ with a keep cup full of ‘coffee’? Spoiler, it has wine inside. Thought so. But guess what. It seems that if you haven’t managed to generally improve yourself, and a substantial number of people online, during this dire time of unprecedented crappness, then apparently you’re doing it wrong. (Bonus points if said improvement was expressed in a language other than that with which you were born). Having missed this chance at enlightenment earlier in the Covid-19 mayhem, this week I decided to give it a go. To change up lockdown life for the better. I vowed that no longer would I spend my