My Dear Bessie
A Love Story In Letters
Twenty four hours have gone since I last wrote. I have been thinking of you. I shall think of you until I post this, and until you get it. Can you feel, as you read these words, that I am thinking of you now; aglow, alive, alert at the thought that you are in the same world, and by some strange chance loving me.
In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends. One of these was Bessie Moore, a former work colleague. The unexpected warmth of Bessie’s reply changed their lives forever. Crossing continents and years, their funny, affectionate and intensely personal letters are a remarkable portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of the Second World War. Above all, their story is a stirring example of the power of letters to transform ordinary lives.
A sampling of these letters first appeared in my book To the Letter, an examination of what we were losing by neglecting traditional letter-writing in favour of emails and texts. I had woven the Chris and Bessie letters between the main chapters, and many readers were so taken with them that they wanted to learn more. The enthusiastic response provided a new opportunity. I had initially published only about 25,000 words from a total of half a million. A standalone book would allow a far more diverse and satisfying selection, covering not only their sweeping passion, but also more mundane (but no less revealing) topics, such as the problems encountered in buying a house that only one of them had seen, and carpeting it at a time of austerity.
And there was another thing. As part of the promotion for To The Letter, my publisher Jamie Byng and other tireless folk at Canongate arranged for the Chris and Bessie correspondence to be read at stellar “Letters Live” theatrical events by such supremely talented souls as Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey, Lisa Dwan, David Nichols, Kerry Fox, Andrew Motion and Patrick Kennedy, and when they left the stage I was besieged with requests for more information about the writers, and more letters. So here we are – a complete book devoted to them. Much more information and a sample of the letters are available from the Features box.