Big 50 Volume 11: Writing Letters

I got my first penpal when I was 9 years old.  Her name was Claire and she was the 11 year old niece of one of my mother’s colleagues, a woman who had migrated to Australia from Scotland.  Claire wasn’t very nice, she thought everything I told her about in my letters was “stupid”, including me, but I was hooked on writing and receiving letters, so I kept writing to her.

When I was about 12 and started buying Countdown and Smash Hits magazines, I started writing letters to the people advertising for penpals in there.  Some of them wrote back.  One who was fairly local (Brisbane to my Rosewood, about 45 minutes drive apart) and I became friends for a few years.  Later in High School, I wrote to people who had advertised in Dolly magazine, THE teenage girl magazine of the time.  When I was 16, I had a penpal advertisement in Dolly myself.

It went in to the January 1989 edition.  By Easter, I had received over 500 replies.  I wrote to all but a handful of them (I got free postage in those days!) and struck up a correspondence with more than half.  They ranged in age from a 12 year old girl to a 45 year old man.

I know what you’re thinking about the 45 year old man writing to a 16 year old girl.  But you know, I wrote to Nicholas for about a decade, I still have most of his letters and  he never said anything inappropriate, never asked me personal details, just told me about his farm and the music he liked and we talked about TV, movies and books we loved.  We would trade mix tapes and I found so much amazing music through him.  We lost contact during one of my frequent moves.  I often wonder what happened to him, he’d be in his 60’s now.

Almost 22 years after I placed that ad in Dolly magazine, I still write to one of them.  Her name is also Kath, she’s about the same age as me and lives on a farm in Western Australia.  About 5 years ago we finally met when she and her husband and daughter came to Queensland for a holiday.  The following May, I flew to Western Australia and had a holiday with her and her family.  We still write fairly regularly, but these days it is via email.  I consider her one of my best friends, despite the fact that we live so far apart.  We’ve watched so many things unfold in each others lives over the years that we are fairly well connected despite the distance, and always seem to know just when we need each other, and what to say.  She’s one of the special people in my life.

Nowdays, I do all my writing online.  I keep in contact with friends via social media.  I miss writing on paper with a pen.  Sometimes at lunch time I will go and hide in a nearby cafe that always seems fairly empty, and write in a notebook.  Quite often I write blog posts, or just thoughts about something down, but the act of writing with a pen and paper is something that is soothing to me.  I hope I never lose the skill of being able to write the old fashioned way.  My handwriting is never going to be called anything special, I learnt to write just as they were changing from cursive to the standardised printing, so I have a funny mix of styles, and my mother used to say my handwriting was like me, big and loopy.  But it’s as much mine as my fingerprints, so I like it.

Do you write with a pen and paper?  Have you ever been a letter writer?  Do you like to read letters?  Tell me your stories.


November 22, 2010. Big 50, letters, writing.


  1. sweetnfat replied:

    I still write letters to my great-aunt Mary every now and again. She’s 80-something and loves hearing from anybody. The letters she writes back are in the most unusual handwriting. It often takes me hours to figure out what every word is. I’m fairly bright about figuring out the gist of the letter to begin with, but I enjoy the challenge of understanding the nuances of peoples’ handwriting too. I find my own handwriting really interesting, but people often have a hard time reading it, so I don’t write letters to anyone but Aunt Mary anymore.

    • sleepydumpling replied:

      My Grandma still writes to me sometimes. She’s 81, but her handwriting is still pretty neat. It used to be REALLY neat, but it’s not as easy for her any more.

      One thing my handwriting is, is legible. It’s SUPER legible!

  2. Elin replied:

    I know this is an old post…. but, if you’d like a penpal from Norway, let me know! I just discovered your photos and writing, and let me tell you, we have a lot in common. Anyway, have a great day, if this ever reaches you! 🙂

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