“There are, as we all know, some things in life that money simply cannot buy. The bottom-right corner of the letters page of The Times is one of them.”
So declared Andrew Riley, The Times letters editor, in 2018. Today, my latest letter to the paper appeared in that prized slot. It was inspired by Matthew Parris’s always-enjoyable Notebook column yesterday, in which he lamented the decline in audio quality on British radio during and after the pandemic. It reminded me of my alarming scare when interviewed live on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 show in 2014.
I’m in good company: Queen Victoria once had a letter published in The Times. The late Queen’s epistle was in response to speculation about her resumption of public appearances following the death of the Prince Consort three years earlier. Mine may be seen as trivial in comparison. But I made the coveted bottom-right corner..
In his column explaining what makes a good letter for The Times, Andrew Riley urges brevity. He quotes the late Times literary editor Philip Howard’s warning that “the most common reason for the rejection of a letter for publication is overwriting”. Riley adds that it is hard to consider a letter if it’s substantially more than 200 words. Mine was just 78 words. I wrote it on the train to London after enjoying Parris’s column over a coffee. (Travelling by train remains an enjoyable experience despite the vagaries of incompetent management and strikes for better pay.) My last published letter, about the accents of Cardiff’s old Tiger Bay docklands, was even shorter at 51 words.
Brevity is a noble aim, whether writing to The Times or giving a presentation. It’s a human instinct to keep going. But knowing when to stop is a gift that others will value.