On Hearing from Readers

Elderly women, in my experience, write the best fan mail.

It’s real mail, for one thing. They find someone who knows me and ask them to deliver it, or they ask around until they find an address for me and they post it. It comes through the strangest places, sometimes, but it’s real mail. I can look at the letter in their handwriting fifty times and it will still say the same thing in their handwriting.

The one that came today was a case in point. I knew it was coming, for the writer had hunted out my mother and asked her for my address. She loved the book so much that she had to write to me and let me know what she thought.

That’s the other thing. When someone is in their seventies or eighties and is a lifelong reader, then every word in that letter counts. When I’m told my book is a masterpiece and will be cherished, I know this to be true. Or when I am given a poem that describes the reader’s personal reaction to the novel and it’s an exquisite poem, then I know I’ve done something very right. The poem was for Ms Cellophane and the words for Langue[dot]doc 1305.

And yes, I’m cherishing today’s letter, the way my reader is going to cherish my novel. I get very few reviews and almost no press attention, but I still get real letters from readers, and they’re extraordinary. Any day I receive one, it makes sending my novels into the world something that’s worth doing.

In this new world of books, it’s better for sales and career if people blog about a novel or comment in public somewhere and it’s best of all if they write reviews or persuade reviewers that this book or that needs to be read, but for giving inner joy to a writer (or to this writer) there’s nothing like a personal letter.

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