In The LoungeValentines

Deborah McKinlay in Praise of Love Letters

Deborah McKinlay, author of That Part Was True, pays tribute to the love letter writers everywhere.

I am a believer in wholeheartedness, a fan of focus. I am dead keen on dedication.

I’ll admit it took me a while to get to this point, I wish I had caught on earlier to the value of utter devotion to something, or someone. I blame, in part, that ghastly smugness that got attached for a while to the (apparently) female ability to “multi-task”. I suspect it encouraged many women to dribble away their talents on half-done things. Certainly I was always one for confusing projects with purpose and am still occasionally tempted down that unproductive by-way. Which is why I am writing now in praise of the love letter.

Not because I want to add to the sludge that the digital versus print debate has become through its endless re-hashing (I am in any case pro digital communication, with its informality, openness and brevity.) But because letter-writing, and especially love-letter-writing, fits better with a commitment to commitment.

The Letter Writer is involved in his process; the choice of paper, the colour of ink. The Letter Writer dons shoes, walks to the post office, stands in line. The Letter Writer stares out the window on the hunt for the right word – and has a pen to chew on which, as any eight year old knows, is an aid to deep thought. The Letter Writer contributes time, vigour.

And, a Love Letter Writer especially, labours to create something lasting. Something worthy of a ribbon, or a cedar-scented drawer. These efforts alone reflect the kind of lover, surely, that we all want. That we all want to be.

Where a Love Email says, ‘Let’s dip a toe in this water… maybe?’, and a Love Text is even less binding, a Love Letter – all that sweat, all that grammar – represents full-on, hell-for-leather, let’s-get-it-on intent. Intent, it is true, if leaned right into, presents the problem of failure. Failure that is more spectacular, more painful, and more public than measly, easy to withdraw, lack of earnestness threatens, but we all know that nothing ever flew without a great big hit of effort. The lesson here anyway is not to eschew writing love letters, but to save your love letter writing energy for worthy, if not necessarily reciprocating, recipients – another set of learnings.

Nancy Milford’s gorgeous biography of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, Savage Beauty (pity the biographers of the future – trawling phone records), quotes from a letter written by Millay’s lover John Peale Bishop. John lost Edna, but, on the downward slide, his pen kept fighting and he sent her – and left us – this wonderful testament to zest:

That Part Was True is out now in paperback, eBook and audio.

Edna, I love you because you are passionate and wise. And if your passion had been less
than your wisdom I should never have felt you so cruelly…

Instant message that.

That Part Was True is out now in paperback, eBook and audio.


Write a Twitter ‘love letter’ to the object of your affection including #miniloveletter before midnight 14th February and we’ll send one lucky recipient a bottle of champagne, box of chocolates and a copy of That Part Was True.

Competition closes 11.59pm Saturday 14th February. Terms and conditions apply

Deborah McKinlay

Deborah McKinlay has published half a dozen non-fiction titles in the UK. Her first novel, THE VIEW FROM HERE, was published in 2011 and her books have been translated into numerous languages. Her work has appeared in British VOGUE, COSMOPOLITAN and ESQUIRE. She lives in south west England.