Clare Hey, editor at Simon & Schuster
“I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for a letter. A proper letter. Not an email, or a text; Whatsapp is a mystery to me. My granny used to write the best letters, full of details of her day, stories from the past – mainly adventures she’d got up to with her sister when they were young teachers during the war – recommendations of books she’d read and loved. And all accompanied by drawings of stick men and women to illustrate her words. None of this would have worked so well by email: it was all about the waiting for the letter, the reading and then the sending of the reply that made the ritual special. The time taken. The time that passed. The recording of that time.
That love of letters runs deep in me, thanks to my granny. So when I first received the manuscript of Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey in my inbox I was immediately intrigued. It’s the story of a doomed love affair between an unhappily married woman, Stella, and an American bomber pilot, Dan, during WWII. And it starts with a letter than Dan sends many years later – he’s old and dying and has lost Stella and now is desperately trying to find her again before it is too late.
Darling girl, he begins, it’s been over seventy years and I still think of you like that. My darling. My girl. So much has changed in that time and the world is a different place to the one where we met, but every time I think of you I’m twenty-two years old again. I promised to love you forever, in a time when I didn’t know if I’d live to see the start of another week. Now it looks like forever is finally running out. I never stopped loving you. I tried, for the sake of my own sanity, but I never even got close, and I never stopped hoping either. The docs say I don’t have much time left, but I still have that hope, and the feeling that I’m not done here. Not until I know what happened to you. Not until I’ve told you that what we started back then in those crazy days when the world was all upside-down has never really finished for me, and that those days – tough and terrifying though they were – were also the best of my life.
This letter does not reach Stella but a young girl, Jess, who has found refuge in Stella’s old home, having run from troubles of her own. And she is so moved by Dan’s words that she promises to help him find his lost love. And so begins a heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel which moves between 1943 and the present day.
Letters to the Lost is a novel that hangs around letters, it is a story that would not have happened had letters fallen out of favour. So, while I know the world moves on, and I am writing this blog piece for a website which I will then tweet a link to, I harbour a nostalgia for a time when I would return home to find a letter on my doormat. If you too suffer from a similar nostalgia, then you may want to indulge it in reading Letters to the Lost, and later perhaps you might be inspired to sit down to write a letter to someone close to your heart.”