real Pen Pals – Rosie & Néomi
'It’s so much easier for me personally to write my thoughts and feelings down on paper. It just flows. You can sit and think before you put pen to paper and express exactly what you want to say. It's therapeutic in fact.'
Welcome to our next instalment of real Pen Pals.
I want to get to know the stories and anecdotes behind our Letter Writing Society's relationships with writing and having a pen pal - what made them sign up and take that leap of faith to start writing to a total stranger, what they enjoy about letter writing as opposed to more modern communications, and most importantly, championing the friendships that have emerged from this lovely pastime.
We're continuing this feature with Rosie and Néomi. Despite never having met, one living in Switzerland and the other in Australia, they've kept up a friendship through letter writing for over 20 years.
How did the idea of a pen pal first come to you? Was it something your school encouraged or was it through another means?
R - The idea first came to me as a child, when I was 9 years old. I was reading through a Sunday newspaper called “The Sunday Mail” when I saw a little advert for penfriends. Oh, I thought, I liked the sound of that - so I joined! I was matched with a partner from Adelaide in South Australia.
N - I grew up in Switzerland but my Grandma on my Mum’s side lived in England, so from a young age, as a family we would send her letters and drawings. My Mum also spent time writing letters to her friends in the UK, so letters were part of our family life. Then when I was about 9 or 10, at Sunday school, we were asked whether we’d like to write to a young girl in Romania. I volunteered! She was my first pen pal and we are still in touch today. Then at school, some friends had pen pals in Canada, so we exchanged addresses and I remember also replying to pen pal adverts in a magazine and posting an ad too.
Were you always interested in the written word, or have you developed an interest since you became a pen pal?
R - I have always been very interested in the written word. I loved English at school and I loved writing essays. My imagination would run away with me!
N - I’ve always loved reading, books, paper and pens and that has developed alongside having pen pals too. I’ve also kept a journal for many years.
How long have you and your pen pal been writing to each other?
Both – around 20 years or more!
Can you recall the contents of your first letters? Was it difficult to know what to write initially?
R - Oh my goodness, no I cannot remember the contents of my first letter. But I am more than certain that I would have written an introductory letter about myself - no difficulty at all to know what to write about initially - I can waffle on a bit!
N - It was a long time ago, I remember being so happy to have a pen pal who lived on the other side of the world, in Australia. I think we exchanged a lot to start with about our countries and lifestyles, and then gradually, our letters became more personal. I don’t remember having any trouble finding content to write, it just feels natural to pick up a pen and start ‘chatting’ like I’m having a conversation face to face with a friend.
How regularly do you write now?
R - I write very regularly. As soon as I get a letter I will answer as soon as I can.
N - I think we write about every 3 to 4 months.
What is it about letter writing that you prefer to more modern methods of communication? Do you share anything different by letter to what you would by text, phone or even in person?
R - I prefer the personal touch to a written letter than modern methods of communication. For example, I will try to customise my envelope and writing paper to that person’s likes and interests. I do share more by letter rather than text, phone or in person. It’s so much easier for me personally to write my thoughts and feelings on paper. It just flows. You have time to conduct such a conversation on paper. You can sit and think before you put pen to paper and express exactly what you want to say. Therapeutic in fact.
N - I just love to collect the post every day as I know I will find a letter rather than just bills. There’s something very exciting about receiving and reading a letter from a pen pal. It’s a special moment where you connect to someone. There’s also something about the hand writing that makes it special as well as the writing paper and envelope, it’s tangible. On the other hand, an email feels less personal as it is typed, it just doesn’t read the same way. Shorter messages (via different message apps) are fun too as we can exchange photos or some news and there’s something instantaneous about them, but it doesn’t replace the letter, it just adds to the friendship. I think sometimes you share differently in a letter than you do in person or over the phone. It can be more personal in a certain way when you write, you can take the time to share, you can think of the words you want to use, you are usually alone in a favourite spot. But there can also be a certain distance when you write to someone, you know them only through what they are willing to share and vice versa. When you are meeting someone in person, it can be harder to hide your feelings. I think the level of sharing depends more on the person you are writing to or have a friendship.
Do you have any nice little anecdotes or stories you can share with us about your letters to one another?
R - Yes, I have many little stories I could share with you about my letters! But I will choose just one…writing about my first marriage breaking up and then talking about the joy of getting remarried a few years later to the love of my life. I have to add, I am so happy and overjoyed to have learnt that my pen pal has just recently become engaged herself!
N - Pen palling is a story in itself that happens over the years and develops into a friendship! Rosie has always been encouraging throughout the years about the different life opportunities and challenges I have had. In every letter, her enthusiasm is present and contagious. I remember her wedding, she shared pictures of her special day, it was a privilege to share that special moment with her and her joy. I think once or twice a letter must have got lost, but fortunately it never stopped our friendship. Rosie is a very generous person, she lives life to the full and that transcribes in her letters and different items we exchange such as cards, different scraps of paper, stamps etc. Lately, Rosie has been decorating her envelopes and it’s always fun to see her art work!
Have you ever met in person or do you stick solely to snail mail for your communication?
Both - No we haven’t had the chance to meet in person, due to the long distance between our two countries, but who knows one day I may visit Australia or her Switzerland!
How did the past year or so affect your letter writing? Did you write more regularly during the lockdown or was it harder to stay in touch?
R - The last year has not really affected my letter writing too much. If I could say perhaps because of mail delivery being slower than usual most of the past year replies took longer to get to each other? But for me keeping in touch was not harder because of lockdown at all. The pen is mightier than the sword!
N - The main problem was the post office service from our different countries. Letters took a lot more time than they usually did. And some never arrived. I think we were more in touch via messages than letters as they seemed to take forever. I found it harder to stay in touch also because despite there being a lockdown, life didn’t really slow down much for me.
Describe your writing set up to us – are you sat at your desk with a glass of wine, or do you prefer a cosy sofa and nice cup of tea?
R – I’m usually sat at my desk with a nice hot cup of tea or sometimes a takeaway coffee from my favourite coffee shop. I can look out of my window there and see fruit trees, a grapevine or two, pretty flowers in pots all curated and cared for by my husband and birds flying by.
N - In summer, my favourite place to write is on my balcony. I love being outside to write. In the other seasons, I’m usually sat at my small desk, it’s my cosy space. I usually have a cup of tea or coffee. I have just moved, so I’m looking forward to creating my new writing space.
What is it that you enjoy most about letter writing, and would you encourage others to try it?
R - I feel productive when I’m letter writing. Creative, impulsive and joyful. Most definitely I encourage others to try it. Go for it! It is so rewarding.
N - My favourite moment is when I receive a letter. I sit down on my sofa to read it, it’s like meeting a friend for a coffee. And when I look back at all the years I have been writing letters, I enjoy all the friendships that have blossomed from the exchanges. I would definitely encourage people to try it.
Lastly, what are your writing essentials or go-to’s in terms of stationery?
R - Paper – either store bought or I just use lined pad paper and trick it up with stickers, paper cut outs, washi tape, stencils, coloured pencils and pens, rubber stamps etc. Sometimes I drag out my old loyal “Royal” typewriter and use that. I even use aerogrammes!
N - I love using ‘real’ writing paper, but it’s harder to find these days. I usually have several sheets of the same paper and use washi tape to decorate the envelope. As for pens, I like to use a coloured pen, but black and blue go well too.
Thank you both so much for taking part!