IDEAS: What is the contemporary way to understand others through script?
HENSHER: What’s replacing handwriting, of course, in this campaign to make our personalities clear to other people, is the choice of fonts. People now describe themselves as a Garamond sort of person, and make clear they would never have any friend that used Comic Sans. It’s not quite so telling. It’s a kind of individuality that you’ve got perfect control over.
IDEAS: So what are we losing?
HENSHER: Handwritten notes and letters are our most intimate remaining contact with people who have disappeared from our lives....People my age [have] all sorts of little notes sitting around in boxes and tucked into books from friends they don’t see anymore, and if they saw the handwriting on an envelope, then they’d know immediately who that person was. I think it’s a very important thing to hang onto for that very important, unforeseen reason.
IDEAS: Do you still write by hand?
HENSHER: I write something every day by hand....and I write my books by hand. I thought I was virtually alone in this, but there are all sorts of writers that continue writing their books by hand. A.S. Byatt does, and Alan Hollinghurst does.
IDEAS: Why do you put yourself through that?
HENSHER: If you’re writing a novel, you don’t want it to come out too easily. You want the choice of words to be a little bit restrained.
IDEAS: What about those of us who aren’t novelists?
HENSHER: There’s nothing nicer than going back over things you’ve written in the past. Those things on paper do take you back to a particular time and a particular place where you were when you were writing this stuff. When I look at my book in print, I can’t remember where I was when I wrote anything. When I come across one of my notebooks, I can remember.
IDEAS: So how do we preserve handwriting?
HENSHER: Teach your children to write....Take pleasure in your own handwriting even when it’s scrappy and individual, because that’s the handwriting that your friends and loved ones will take the most pleasure in, because it’s you. Do it every day.
We maintain a mixed relationship with food. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we call in for a delivery, and sometimes, like on Christmas Day, we start from scratch preparing food for people that we love. Why can’t handwriting be like that?
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville.