It's All About How The Topics Are Interpreted With Women Of Letters

16 November 2015 | 4:32 pm | Sarah Barratt

"Their ability to draw out the most deeply personal moments is truly a testament to the power of their events and to the form of letters."

What do you get when you throw some writers, comedians, politicians, musicians or artists into a room together to write letters? Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy decided to do that five-and-a-half years ago for the first time, and they're still going.

Thanks to volcanic activity, McGuire is stuck in Seminyak for the interview after Ubud Writer's Festival, the third year Women Of Letters have been invited. They bring letter-writing into the here and now. They don't record, tweet or podcast anything. "We still don't feel right about ever podcasting or filming our shows, but the idea of giving people a couple of years to consider if they're happy for their letter to appear on the page, it's something that sits really well with us," McGuire says.

"We invite men and women to contribute and they write a letter to 'the thing I wish I'd written'."

The only format outside of live performance these two honour for the letters is books, and the old-school approach seems to be working in their favour. "There's no selection process, like once they've done a show, we're really happy for them to put their letter into a book. And it's sort of just about how quickly Penguin can get the books out now."

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The latest installment, From The Heart, shifts gears away from international talents back to Australian stories, coming from The Monthly regular Karen Hitchcock, radio veteran Derryn Hinch, politician Penny Wong, playwright David Williamson and restaurateur Stephanie Alexander just to name a few.

McGuire is the first to admit that they're not a conventional literary event or publication, which is why they're so appealing. There's always a 'dark horse' writer in the mix who is lesser known, and some curly topics suggested that promote everyone's creativity. "We invite men and women to contribute and they write a letter to 'the thing I wish I'd written'. And it's such a strange, funny topic, and people have interpreted it so wildly. I mean we've had people write letters to the American national anthem.

"Pinky Beecroft wrote in this book to the Bible but he prefaced it by saying that he didn't really know what to address his letter to, because the only thing he wishes he'd written was Anastasia's seminal hit, I'm Outta Love. It was quite something to behold, and I love his turn of phrase so much; just really witty to read on the page."

The success of these collections lies in their depth and scope. Each text is curated out of two years' worth of letters, written by diverse individuals whose ability to draw out the most deeply personal moments is truly a testament to the power of these events and to the form of letters. "There's this incredible one of them with Kristin Williamson, who was paired up with her husband David Williamson, the preeminent playwright who wrote Don's Party as well as another million plays, and she wrote this incredible letter about the night he had a stroke at a restaurant and all the thoughts that went through her head when she thought that he was going to die.

"He [David] stood up at the end of it and said, 'I didn't know what you were going to speak about and how can anything that I say now compare to this?' He was just weeping and saying, 'I'm sorry, Kristin, I love you' and he just sort of brandished this letter that he would never read. But, he has allowed us to publish it, so, reading it in the book was actually the first time I got to see what the second half of that letter was."