Cheltenham Literature Festival

Dear All,

At 8.45pm this Saturday--October 3rd--to mark the publication of More Letters of Note, I'll be at Cheltenham Literature Festival in conversation with Jamie Byng from Canongate Books. We'll be discussing the power of letters, the Letters of Note project and its success, and Letters Live. Interwoven throughout our conversation will be live readings (from Lisa Dwan and other guests), and we'll also be playing and discussing recordings of readings by people such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Caitlin Moran and Sir Ben Kingsley. All in all, an emotional and riveting ride that will celebrate some of history's greatest letters of note.

If you'd like to join us, head over to the festival's website and grab a ticket; I shall see you all on Sunday. For more info about the new book (published tomorrow, October 1st!) click here. I'll leave you with footage of Geoffrey Palmer reading a magnificent and very funny letter that features in More Letters of Note, written by Evelyn Waugh to his wife Laura during the Second World War.


More Letters of Note

"[A] wonderful treasure trove of a book [...] Is there anyone who wouldn’t find something in these letters to delight or surprise or astonish them, to make them gasp, or laugh, or cry?

"This follow-up volume, delivered in the same beautifully designed format, is engaging, eclectic, geekily and gleefully enthusiastic — and both laugh-out-loud funny and heart-breaking."

I am very proud and slightly nervous to say that the special edition of More Letters of Note, pictured above (more photos here), is now en route to subscribers; a separate trade edition of the book (see below for more info) will be available in all sensible bookshops from October 1st. More Letters of Note is a beautiful object, designed, yet again, by Here Design, and filled to the brim with correspondence that will play havoc with your emotions and deliver the same mix of the heartfelt, the historically significant, the tragic, the comic and the unexpected...

We have an enthusiastic letter written by a young David Bowie in response to his first piece of American fan mail; J.K. Rowling’s reply, in character as Albus Dumbledore, to a Professor of Colloid and Polymer Science who applied to become Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts; from 1930, a missive from Lili Elvenes in which she describes her relief at finally being able to undergo surgery in what was one of the first cases of gender reassignment; a long letter sent by Tom Clancy to his friends just his star was beginning to rise, in which he speaks of his rapidly changing life; an embroidered letter of such incredible dimensions that it spans several fold-out pages; the charming illustrated letter that introduced Peter Rabbit to the world, written by Beatrix Potter to a five-year-old boy; a letter from legendary “dinosaur hunter” Barnum Brown, in which he describes having just discovered the Tyrannosaurus rex; Florence Nightingale’s harrowing account of the “appalling horror” of the Crimean War, written in 1854, and many, many more. As with the first book, you will embark on a rollercoaster ride that soars as high as it does low, travelling back in time as far as 2000BC to read an ancient Egyptian letter to the dead and coming as close as 2014 to read a wonderfully entertaining letter by Robert Crumb.

I couldn't be happier with the book; hopefully you will feel the same. A huge thank you to all who had a hand in its creation.


As mentioned, there are two editions of More Letters of Note in the UK (more news on the US edition soon, but it's coming!).

- The special edition, pictured above, can only be bought from Unbound. The production of this edition was crowdfunded with help from thousands of lovely people, without whom More Letters of Note would not now exist.

- Another edition, the cover of which is pictured below in all its glory (more photos of that edition here), will be in shops from October 1st courtesy of Unbound and Canongate. If you can't manage to buy one from a local bookshop (you should definitely try), this edition can also be bought from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, and various other larger retailers.

Is it a disgrace to be Born a Chinese?

In September of 1884, San Francisco residents Joseph and Mary Tape did something seemingly quite ordinary: they attempted to enroll their 8-year-old daughter, Mamie, at Spring Valley School, a local school also to be attended by Mamie’s friends. However, this was 1884, and although born in the U.S., Mamie was of Chinese descent and the daughter of immigrants—as a result, she was quickly denied entry by the school’s principal, Jennie Hurley. Furious, the Tapes took the untested route of suing the school board, and, against all odds, won. Despite the decision, the school board then temporarily circumvented what was a groundbreaking ruling by establishing a separate school for local Chinese children, Mamie Tape included. Progress continued to be slow and painful.

In April of 1885, as the local authorities continued to duck and dive, Mamie’s mother wrote the school board a letter.

(Source: The Letters of Note book; Image of the Tape family courtesy of Berkely Heritage.)

1769 Green Street,
San Francisco, April 8, 1885.

To the Board of Education—

Dear Sirs:

I see that you are going to make all sorts of excuses to keep my child out off the Public schools. Dear sirs, Will you please to tell me! Is it a disgrace to be Born a Chinese? Didn't God make us all!!! What right have you to bar my children out of the school because she is a chinese Decend. They is no other worldly reason that you could keep her out, except that. I suppose, you all goes to churches on Sundays! Do you call that a Christian act to compell my little children to go so far to a school that is made in purpose for them. My children don't dress like the other Chinese. They look just as phunny amongst them as the Chinese dress in Chinese look amongst you Caucasians. Besides, if I had any wish to send them to a chinese school I could have sent them two years ago without going to all this trouble. You have expended a lot of the Public money foolishly, all because of a one poor little Child. Her playmates is all Caucasians ever since she could toddle around. If she is good enough to play with them! Then is she not good enough to be in the same room and studie with them? You had better come and see for yourselves. See if the Tape's is not same as other Caucasians, except in features. It seems no matter how a Chinese may live and dress so long as you know they Chinese. Then they are hated as one. There is not any right or justice for them.

You have seen my husband and child. You told him it wasn't Mamie Tape you object to. If it were not Mamie Tape you object to, then why didn't you let her attend the school nearest her home! Instead of first making one pretense Then another pretense of some kind to keep her out? It seems to me Mr. Moulder has a grudge against this Eight-year-old Mamie Tape. I know they is no other child I mean Chinese child! care to go to your public Chinese school. May you Mr. Moulder, never be persecuted like the way you have persecuted little Mamie Tape. Mamie Tape will never attend any of the Chinese schools of your making! Never!!! I will let the world see sir What justice there is When it is govern by the Race prejudice men! Just because she is of the Chinese decend, not because she don't dress like you because she does. Just because she is decended of Chinese parents I guess she is more of a American then a good many of you that is going to prewent her being Educated.

Mrs. M. Tape.

A Most Important Discovery

On March 19th of 1953, weeks before it was announced to the public, scientist Francis Crick excitedly wrote a letter to his son and told him of one of the most important scientific developments of modern times: his co-discovery of the “beautiful” structure of DNA, the molecule responsible for carrying the genetic instructions of living organisms; or, as Crick explained it to 12-year-old Michael, “the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life.” Although DNA was isolated back in the 1860s by Friedrich Miescher, its now-famous double-helix structure wasn’t correctly modelled until the early 1950s by Crick and his colleague, James Watson, thanks in no small part to work already done by Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin, and Raymond Gosling. In 1962, Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts.

In April of 2013, this letter became the most expensive in history after being sold at auction for $5.3million.

(Source: The Letters of Note book - reprinted by permission of the family of Francis H. C. Crick.)


19 Portugal Place

19 March ‘53

My Dear Michael,

    Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for the structure of dex-oxi-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. for short. You may remember that the genes of the chromosomes — which carry the hereditary factors — are made up of protein and D.N.A.
    Our structure is very beautiful. D.N.A. can be thought of roughly as a very long chain with flat bits sticking out. The flat bits are called the “bases”. The formula is rather like this.

               sugar —— base
              sugar —— base
             sugar —— base
   and so on.

Now we have two of these chains winding round each other — each one is a helix — and the chain, made up sugar and phosphorus, is on the outside, and the bases are all on the inside. I can’t draw it very well, but it looks like this.

[diagram of the double helix]

The model looks much nicer than this.
    Now the exciting thing is that while there are 4 different bases, we find we can only put certain pairs of them together. The bases have names. They are Adenine, Guanine, Thymine & Cytosine. I will call them A, G, T and C. Now we find that the pairs we can make — which have one base from one chain joined to one base from another — are only

       A with T
and  G with C.

Now on one chain, as far as we can see, one can have the bases in any order, but if their order is fixed, then the order on the other chain is also fixed. For example, suppose the
first chain goes ↓ then the second must go

A - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - T
T - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A
C - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -G
A - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - T
G - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -C
T - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A
T - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A

It is like a code. If you are given one set of letters you can write down the orders.
Now we believe that the D.N.A. is a code. That is, the order of the bases (the letters) makes one gene different from another gene (just as one page of print is different from another). You can now see how Nature makes copies of the genes. Because if the two chains unwind into two separate chains, and if each chain then makes another chain come together on it, then because A always goes with T, and G with C, we shall get two copies where we had one before.
For example

A — T
T — A
C — G
A — T
G — C
T — A
T — A

↙ separate ↘

new chains form

A — T                             T — A
T — A                             A — T
C — G                             G — C
A — T                              T — A
G — C                              C — G
T — A                              A — T
T — A                              A — T

In others words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life. The beauty of our model is that the shape of it is such that only these pairs can go together, though they could pair up in other ways if they were floating about freely. You can understand that we are very excited. We have to have a letter off to Nature in a day or so.
    Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model.

Lots of love,


In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and instantly clicked, quickly forming a strong, deep bond that would last for ten years and result in countless inspirational discussions and rich exchanges of ideas. Indeed, they remained incredibly close friends until May of 1970, at which point Hesse, still only 34 years of age, sadly passed away after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. In 1965, half-way through their relationship, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament. A few weeks later, Sol replied with the wonderful, invaluable letter of advice seen here.

Full transcript follows.

(Source: The Letters of Note book, courtesy of The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society.)

April 14

Dear Eva,

It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don't! Learn to say "Fuck You" to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just


From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability; the work you are doing sounds very good "Drawing - clean - clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder... real nonsense." That sounds fine, wonderful — real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever — make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your "weird humor." You belong in the most secret part of you. Don't worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as "to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end." You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to


I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT. And don't think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working — then stop. Don't punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to


It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an "Agonizing Reappraisal" of my work and change everything as much as possible — and hate everything I've done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can't you leave the "world" and "ART" alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that's that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I'm sure you know all that. You also must know that you don't have to justify your work — not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can't understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones & I can't. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can — shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything.

I would like to see your work and will have to be content to wait until Aug or Sept. I have seen photos of some of Tom's new things at Lucy's. They are very impressive — especially the ones with the more rigorous form; the simpler ones. I guess he'll send some more later on. Let me know how the shows are going and that kind of stuff.

My work has changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4–29 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64th St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.


I miss my biggest heart

It wasn't until her death, in 1886, that the true scale of Emily Dickinson's profound poetry was both discovered and appreciated by family and friends, many of whom had only glimpsed her talents in the numerous poem-filled letters that she wrote. She found an even wider audience in 1890 with the posthumous publication of a volume of her work; a collection of her letters followed in 1894. Her most frequent correspondent, and a person now thought to have been the inspiration for much of her passionate material, was close friend (and, from 1856 onwards, sister-in-law) Susan Huntington Gilbert, a lady who provoked some undeniably intimate and romantic letters from the poet, the intensity of which to this day generate speculation about their relationship.

(Image: Death and Taxes.)

11 June 1852

I have but one thought, Susie, this afternoon of June, and that of you, and I have one prayer, only; dear Susie, that is for you. That you and I in hand as we e'en do in heart, might ramble away as children, among the woods and fields, and forget these many years, and these sorrowing cares, and each become a child again — I would it were so, Susie, and when I look around me and find myself alone, I sigh for you again; little sigh, and vain sigh, which will not bring you home.

I need you more and more, and the great world grows wider, and dear ones fewer and fewer, every day that you stay away — I miss my biggest heart; my own goes wandering round, and calls for Susie — Friends are too dear to sunder, Oh they are far too few, and how soon they will go away where you and I cannot find them, dont let us forget these things, for their remembrance now will save us many an anguish when it is too late to love them! Susie, forgive me Darling, for every word I say — my heart is full of you, none other than you in my thoughts, yet when I seek to say to you something not for the world, words fail me. If you were here — and Oh that you were, my Susie, we need not talk at all, our eyes would whisper for us, and your hand fast in mine, we would not ask for language — I try to bring you nearer, I chase the weeks away till they are quite departed, and fancy you have come, and I am on my way through the green lane to meet you, and my heart goes scampering so, that I have much ado to bring it back again, and learn it to be patient, till that dear Susie comes. Three weeks — they cant last always, for surely they must go with their little brothers and sisters to their long home in the west!

I shall grow more and more impatient until that dear day comes, for till now, I have only mourned for you; now I begin to hope for you.

Dear Susie, I have tried hard to think what you would love, of something I might send you — I at last saw my little Violets, they begged me to let them go, so here they are — and with them as Instructor, a bit of knightly grass, who also begged the favor to accompany them — they are but small, Susie, and I fear not fragrant now, but they will speak to you of warm hearts at home, and of the something faithful which “never slumbers nor sleeps” — Keep them 'neath your pillow, Susie, they will make you dream of blue-skies, and home, and the “blessed contrie”! You and I will have an hour with “Edward” and “Ellen Middleton”, sometime when you get home — we must find out if some things contained therein are true, and if they are, what you and me are coming to!

Now, farewell, Susie, and Vinnie sends her love, and mother her's, and I add a kiss, shyly, lest there is somebody there! Dont let them see, will you Susie?

Emilie —

Why cant I be the delegate to the great Whig Convention? — dont I know all about Daniel Webster, and the Tariff, and the Law? Then, Susie I could see you, during a pause in the session — but I dont like this country at all, and I shant stay here any longer! “Delenda est” America, Massachusetts and all!

open me carefully