I don’t know about you, but I love, love, love getting a letter or greeting card or email from my friends and family. I tend to get wrapped up in their daily goings on, or whatever person or event is causing them grief or joy. Sometimes I’ll hold on to the letter or save the email so I can read them over and over again just because of what is written, how it’s written, or just…because. I so adore my friends and family. I’d imagine some of you may feel the same way.
But how would you feel if you received a letter, addressed to you, from overseas, from someone you didn’t know? How would you feel? Wouldn’t you be curious?
Well, that’s what happened to Mr. G.L. Solomon, living in Sydney, Australia. In Naomi Bulger’s novella, Airmail, his very lonely, very mundane, very routine life takes a turn when he receives a letter from a woman he doesn’t know, who lives in New York. This odd, mysterious, quirky woman, Anouk, continues to write letters to him, confessing the random workings of her mind, and he continues to read the letters, still content in his life, sitting in his home halfway across the world. Until, that is, one day she writes him, claiming to be writing from “the other side.” Believing Anouk is in trouble, Mr. Solomon steps out of his comfort zone and into her world in New York, leaving all that is familiar to him, determined to help her in any way he can.
What happens from that moment on, can be nothing but life changing for Mr. Solomon.
Airmail is a brilliantly written novella by Naomi Bulger. It’s one of those stories that lingers in our minds long after the book is tucked away.
I had the opportunity to hook up with Naomi this week and ask her a few questions about the story, and I am thrilled to share our conversation with you!
I love the premise of Airmail. What inspired you to write it? Were the characters based on anyone you knew?
Thank you! If I’m honest, insomnia inspired me to write Airmail. I originally had a completely different story in mind, one in which a girl traveled the world writing letters to a stranger, and through those letters the stranger (and the reader) would learn about her adventures, her romances, her journey. But while I was writing I went through a particularly bad bout of insomnia, and I guess it really messed with my mind. It probably didn’t help that I wrote under a flickering fluorescent light a lot of that time, too. Before I knew it, the girl had a ‘reverse stalker’ and within a very short period of time, she was (or believed she was) dead! She never got to leave New York. I struggled for a while with trying to wrestle the book back to my earlier vision but, in the end, I gave up and decided to keep writing and see where the story would lead me.
To answer the second part of your question, the characters aren’t based on people I know, but the old man, Mr G.L. Solomon, was created in part by a close friend. I was struggling to write the character of an old man in a way that convinced even me, let alone anyone else. So I work-shopped him with my friend, an actor. I gave my friend a brief outline of the old man’s character, then started posting letters. I would hand-write the letters in the character of Anouk, and send them to my friend’s house (addressed to Mr G.L. Solomon) in airmail envelopes. I even pasted used US stamps onto them so they seemed to come from New York, rather than my Sydney house around the corner. After reading the letters, my friend would talk with me about the old man’s reactions. Things like, “He can’t read Anouk’s handwriting” came first. Then “He has developed a routine around how and when he reads the letters,” and, “He used to be annoyed when they came, but now he is curious to know more.” Together, we built up a picture of this curmudgeonly old man, who is so very real to me today.
How long did you take to write Airmail?
This was a quick book to write, I’d say only six weeks. But that was the first draft. Subsequent drafts and work with editors in both Australia and the US took literally years.
Is there a message in Airmail that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think I wrote Airmail with a message in mind, it’s not a book that’s intended to teach. That said, I think the central message that came out of this book is to “own your own stories.” Things happen to us in life: the very good, the very bad, and a whole lot of everyday stuff in between. But if we try to edit any stories out of our memories, even the bad ones, we are not being true to ourselves. Everything that happens to you in your life helps make you who you are, that unique and special you.
Airmail has a very unique cover. Who did the design work?
I love the cover of Airmail, it was done by my publisher’s in-house designers. I talked with them about the kind of mood I wanted to create, for example the vintage postage feel, and sent them some Polariod photographs I had taken myself during my research for Airmail. But I was prepared for something completely different, and willing to accept their marketing know-how over my aesthetic. They came back with this cover, even using some of my Polariods on the back, and I just loved it.
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This is definitely a not-to-be-missed read. And….no book review would be complete without a giveaway! So go ahead and leave a comment below, be it a question or random thought, and I’ll put your name in a hat, from which a winner will be drawn and announced tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, I’d love it if you would join me when I give you the low-down on Naomi. She so deserves a day of her own…Yeah, she’s that good.