‘For me it is always really important to go and meet the story. The need to go to Chartres was obvious for me, and I went several times for this story. It was important just walking around, even though it has changed so much since the time in which I was researching, just to see the way the wind moves over the land and how the sun rises and falls. There were limits to for me to explore, also you find yourself up against the limits of your own skin.’
It’s funny how your mind gives a face to a voice, isn’t it? How do you imagine me? Do you imagine me plain? Am I detailed? Have you read my name and assigned a character to me? This letter is for you.
Ever since its’ inception in 1997, the Dublin based magazine The Stinging Fly has been dedicated to seeking out, nurturing, publishing, and promoting new writers and new writing. After its first print in 1998 under founders Aoife Kavangh and Declan Meade, the independent magazine has expanded to become a book publisher, education provider and online platform. The literary magazine prints an eclectic collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, with a notable focus on short stories.
Perhaps it’s a mix between my hopeless romantic personality and the fact I’m an English student that has made me think the ultimate gesture of love is a handwritten love letter. It also helps that they appear repeatedly in movies and books, and even in real life. Well, others’ lives I assume, not mine.
I have never met my neighbours. Occasionally I hear Flat 2 pottering around downstairs or the sound of Flat 8’s washing machine spinning through the wall. Sometimes I catch a few notes of Flat 3’s interesting music taste (I’m talking Kid Rock at 8am) through the ceiling. But none of us have ever spoken.
‘Gardens, dreamed, photographed or otherwise seem to be spaces always of fantasy and escapism’: An Interview with Grug Muse
‘I was walking, and I passed by this botanical garden, stumbling on this wild corner of it. In Belgrade, there are lots of overgrown, luscious green spaces; there weren’t any mowed lawns. Sometimes, you would see people come out of their houses to plant things in what seemed like random spaces, and whilst they were overgrown, you could sense they were still tended and cared for. Within the city people were totally surrounded by plants, by pockets of wild, growing spaces which I was able to explore.’
In its quest for new creative work, The Tangerine provides a platform for new artistic voices who aren’t afraid to get their hands sticky. From poetry and creative prose, to long-form pieces with a journalistic focus, the writers of these pages capture the beauty and reality of culture and politics in Northern Ireland and beyond.
When I find myself missing home, I close my eyes and picture it. Not the little house where I grew up, but the many mountains right outside my doorstep that I spent my childhood hiking in, and the vast ocean at their feet. I see how the water glitters and I feel the shock of cold when I jump in. I think of the tall mountain ranges that are capped with snow even in the height of summer, and the smaller ones that are so steep you can only think about breathing while you climb them.
Mid-afternoon on Easter Monday, I sit down for a chat with writer, artist and art museum grants manager, Hannah Jansen. As I join the call from my little flat in Nottingham, Hannah logs on from across the pond in Maine, dealing with a five-hour time difference that means she hasn’t yet had the chance to grab her morning coffee. For the next half hour or so, we talk fairy tales, Anne Sexton and the importance of letter writing in today’s world.
In keeping with The Letters Page tradition, we’ve sent Hannah Jansen a gift subscription to one of our favourite literary journals as a thanks for letting us publish her letter. With Hannah based in America, the subscription we’ve chosen is for the US literary, arts and culture magazine A Public Space. Here, Chloé Rose Whitmore takes a deep dive into this award-winning journal.
After our customary longer-than-expected pause, we’re ready to hit your inboxes again with the first letter from Volume 6, an atmospheric response to Anne Sexton’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ poem, written by the wicked stepmother herself. Ahead of publication, Chloé Rose Whitmore considers the influence of fairy tales on contemporary writers.
I can’t say that I have received many letters in my life. I’ve never really had cause to write one myself either, except for the sheer novelty of it. And it is a novelty now. Gone are the days where sending letters was as mundane a task as sending a text, though I suppose that is what makes it feel even more special.
By the time it occurs to us to hit record and shift our conversation to ‘interview mode’, I’ve already been sitting with Lindsey Coombs for four hours. It’s two weeks before Christmas, and we’ve just finished a lavish meal of roasted squash and pear carpaccio. We’re down to our last dribbles of wine, so we order another glass. The night feels wide-open.
Like many shy or awkward kids, I spent my lunchtimes at school in the classroom of my favourite teachers. This for me was the music room. Five years after leaving school I reached out to one of my former music teachers, Scott Richardson, and it strikes me that I have now not seen Scott for the same length of time as I knew him during my years at school.
Bullets to Braille: Adjusting to Life after the Army – An Interview with Steve Pendleton, ex-rifleman
Joining the army was always a no-brainer for my dad: “Since I was eight years old, I wanted to join the army. Growing up, my father was in the army so that was all I knew. It was instinctive for me…’
‘I like going out, and I like every customer who come to the café, my cozy cave. They are all the flames in my life.’
A Chinese saying that describes friendship goes: As flame of fire we gather, as skyful of stars we scatter.
I recognize the hands on my screen. They are moving in slow concentric circles, with a stub of a pencil between the index finger and the thumb. My grandfather is a man who doesn’t believe in throwing things away.
Portland Coffee bustles as Lydia Sanders and I stand in line for a beverage. We chat off-hand about the content of our previous seminar and as our orders are called out, we take a seat at a table and I set up. We’re both bundled up in winter clothes but the sun has popped out for a brief guest appearance, painting the already warm tones of the café even warmer.
On a Friday afternoon, things are winding down, pints are poured and the weekend is imminent for most. But for Head Chef Joe Laker, his working week is only really just gaining momentum. Point proven as he pops onto the screen in his chef whites and a pen in hand, taking a quick break from the kitchen, down in the wine cellar of his restaurant, FENN.
Every line of this poem has been taken from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo Van Gogh. Reading some of these letters reminded me that the world was a very uncomplicated place at some point. The simplicity of Van Gogh’s words but the complexity of the emotions and experiences conveyed through them helped me remember how powerful writing can be.
Picture this. A flat in Tokyo, situated ten minutes from the city centre, inhabited by a teacher or a marketing executive. Now imagine them sitting in an open window reading your letter, the one you once posted to us. Or what about someone reading it from an office in Germany, or onboard a train in London.
Charles Darwin wrote a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1844 in which he said: “At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.”
When I first moved to Nottingham, I clung to anything that reminded me of home, as the first week came ailed with a homesickness that followed me around as I navigated a new city, a new course, and new people. One of these ‘home things’ was a letter my Nan had written me back when I was in school. Blue-tacked to my bedside wall, I read it every night before bed, and woke up to it every morning. With her messy cursive scrawl patterning the page like a piece of art, – along with the doodles of her old dog drawn in one curled corner – every time I read it, I felt like no time had passed since the last time I saw her.
As a child of the neon-bright noughties, I didn’t grow up with letter writing. By then, we could send 30p texts on hot-pink flip phones, penning literary gems like “WUU2” and “urdumped btw x”. So I was a little surprised when a letter from one of my childhood friends, who had just started studying in Aberystwyth, turned up in my university postbox.
There is an excitement that comes from waiting for a letter to arrive. These days, the closest most of us get to this feeling is another Amazon parcel through the door (or chucked over the fence). But it’s not quite the same, is it?
Letters are visions into the past. Something the world seems to have moved beyond, replacing them with instant communication that has at once pulled us all closer together but pushed us further apart as well. Looking fondly back at the past is a global human past-time, I know I am guilty of it, but the opposite side of the coin is looking forward – something that can be just as important and cathartic.
When my father was twelve years old, he used to work at a paper mart. He spoke only in his mother tongue, Gujrati. Although English wasn’t his first language, he was determined to master it. He couldn’t afford to buy books in English and those were rare to come by in the rural town of Jamnagar in Gujarat. In his spare time between sorting out old magazines and stacking newspapers, he would sit down with a tattered copy of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and attempt to learn.
It was ten years ago when I first picked up a copy of Mslexia. At the volatile age of 17, I was just starting to stretch into the world of writing – scrawling angst poems on coffee cups, napkins, the sole of my shoe. I didn’t know how to turn my dreams of being a writer-turned-millionaire into anything real or concrete, and well-meaning teachers had no idea which direction to point me in.
Whenever I read the word damsel, I’m instantly transported to the year 1999. There I am sat in front of the tv, eating a plate of – now extinct – turkey dinosaurs, watching another episode of Scooby Doo where, yet again, Daphne finds herself dangling from a tall structure, waiting to be rescued by one of the male leads. But, while Daphne is the ultimate damsel in distress, the voices emitting from ‘Dear Damsels’ could not be further from this notion.
As a lover of everything literary, I grew up on regular weekend visits to the local library. Some of my fondest childhood memories feature my sisters and I, sleepy-eyed on a Saturday morning, our mum having just let us loose amongst the bookshelves, before convening in a quiet spot at the back of the building to devour our findings.
“In many ways a letter and a poem are very, very similar things.”
As the summer heatwave rages on, I have chosen today to sit in front of the screen and chat with poet and author Clare Pollard about writing in translation, feminist letters, and epistolary poetry of past and present.
I meet Helena Durham in a museum cafe on the twelfth of December. Jingly Christmas music is playing by the counter, and there’s a background chatter as we sit down. She asks me if I’ve voted yet.
This year, I moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a Masters at the University of Nottingham, and since starting my undergraduate studies and spending two terms abroad, leaving has come to feel like an inevitability. The constant ache of homesickness, the hopeless juggling of time differences, is something I’ve come to accept. But when I feel the 3296 miles of distance, I know to write to my mother.
Reading is often viewed as a solitary task, undertaken in a state of quiet concentration, but for Dr Kevin Harvey, an associate professor of sociolinguistics at the University of Nottingham, reading can provide a whole host of benefits when made collaborative.
With the clang of a packet being pushed into a tiny slot and the bang of it falling on the floor, the long wait ended. I rushed to the front door, and I saw my name beautifully written in blue ink against the white package, while my sister’s name, occupying the upper left corner of the shipping label, was drawn in an equally artful way.
When Duncan Wallace appears on the other side of the screen on a day in early July, his greeting arrives from the near future. For the curious, no, Duncan has not been engaged in the subtle art of time travelling, a la Doctor Who.
The first thing I ever bought from Vienna was a postcard. It was November of 2014 and having decided that nineteen was a good age for this specific young individual to start experiencing the wonders of this specific world all on her own, I set out to do just that. Just me, myself, and what experience those nineteen years could afford me.
Letter writing — it’s a phrase that feels like a thing of the past, like VHS, or cassette tape, or rotary phone. There are now entire generations who don’t know what it feels like to receive a real letter in the post, let alone write one.
‘I didn’t decide to be a writer. I still haven’t really decided to be a writer.’
It’s a cloudy December 2019 afternoon in a quiet corner of Peckham, before COVID-19 was headline news. Around us, the oblivious bustle of café Petitou would in mere months be a thing of the past.
Like many authors’, David Willey’s writing emerged from a casual hobby. However, it was when he switched from his full-time position to a part-time job at a charity that he found he had more free time to write prolifically. Despite the many perks of this new job, money, he admits, was not one of them.
An interview with Gonzales on the portrayal of women in fairy tales, popular culture, and most importantly of all, how to write real women: by ‘believing that they are real people.’
‘I struck a deal with myself to write one social media post every day no matter what life deals me about a decade ago. The only condition: to be drafted within fifteen minutes’.
When Annie Syed appeared on the other side of my screen, courtesy of the revered, overused, and somewhat dreaded magic of the infamous Zoom call, it only took a wave, a breath, and an observation, before our conversation began. Unsurprisingly, it was about words.
‘Writing is a lens more than a thing you do,’ Nay Saysourinho says, through a video screen. We are sitting behind our screens in England and Greece as she talks to us from her house on the outskirts of New Haven, Connecticut.