Why would Zaphod Beeblebrox blackmail Zorro? What motivates Eeyore to write a warning to Ebenezer Scrooge? This is the premise of ‘Dear 26’, a global writers’ collaboration launching at the Whanganui Literary Festival on September 29, 2021.
Over a year in the planning, and managed through the pandemic, 26 writers in Aotearoa, the UK, Europe, US, and India participated in this ambitious first project for 26 NZ, led by 26 NZ founders Paul White, Jayne Workman and Jane Berney.
“It occurred to me one windy winter evening that the characters in the book I was reading were as real to me as my friends and relatives,” says Paul White who came up with the idea for Dear 26. “Then I wondered what would happen if those characters could write letters to other characters in other books. When I asked a few people what they thought of the idea it soon became clear that it’s a writer’s dream to write in the voice of a favourite fictional character.”
The brief? To write a letter between fictional characters, first or last names starting with the same randomly assigned letter of the alphabet. For example, Dickens’ Uriah Heep spars with JK Rowling’s Dolores Umbridge, Candide’s Dr. Pangloss consoles T.S Eliott’s anti-hero Prufrock. Writers chose authors as diverse as Janet Frame, Stephen King, Sally Rooney and Jane Austen.
One of the 26 writers, Sir Bob Harvey, introduced Dr. John Watson to the Whaleman, Ishmael. “On the West Coast of New Zealand, where I live, there are many whale strandings. The largest whale, given the Maori name Tū Hononga, was gifted to Te Papa, the national museum, and it tours the world as the greatest specimen of the great Sperm Whale. It is possible that such a giant whale was washed up when Sherlock Holmes, then presumed dead, visited Auckland in 1891.”
Sir Bob will be reading his ‘letters’ as part of the launch of the Dear 26 book at the Whanganui Literary Festival, Wednesday September 29. “It seemed only right,” adds Jayne Workman, “that a project celebrating the art of letter writing be committed to paper. We’re also running The Art of Letters exhibition at the festival, so the letters can be enjoyed in a large format, and writing workshops to explore the craft. We’ve loved seeing how letter-writing can bring people together even today.”
“When we began this project, publishing of the work wasn’t set in stone,” says Jane Berney, “but as we read the letters we all agreed that there had to be a book to curate these extraordinary conversations.” The first edition of the Dear 26 book that contains each letter is available through Unity Books Auckland and Paige’s Whanganui.
This is the first project originated in New Zealand by ‘26’, an international writers’ group for anyone who believes in the power of words. Each writer who took part is a member of 26 ( https://www.26.org.uk ) with 12 from New Zealand and 14 scattered from Prague and Mumbai to Belfast, Austin, Texas and London. 26NZ’s membership is growing with each new initiative.
Previous 26 writing projects include the award-winning 26 Armistice, 26 Trees and 26 Wild, partnerships with the V&A, Imperial War Museum and The Woodland Trust, and, most recently, 26 Weeks capturing, through candid one-on-one conversations, people’s experiences during the exceptional Covid circumstances of 2020.
In 2021, 26NZ’s writers are also completing their contributions for ‘26Habitats NZ’, a partnership with Forest & Bird. The project is a collaboration with 26Habitats UK and the Wildlife Trusts to produce creative works to highglight the urgent issues around habitat loss and climate change launching in the run-up to and during COP26 in November in Glasgow.
For more information or a copy of the book, please connect with:
Paul White 027 4967096 Auckland
Jane Berney 027 4907 190 Auckland
Jayne Workman 027 532 4000 Whanganui