'There's nothing more satisfying than finding a letter'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Each week Insight asks innovative individuals to explain their work and their ideas. To kick things off, we asked Letters of Note founder Shaun Usher, 33, to explain how collecting some of the world's most moving, funny and inspiring correspondence has, over the two years that the website has been live, taken over his life.

"The founding of Letters of Note was pretty unromantic. I was a copywriter at the time, trying to write an article for a client, a stationery company. I was going to write the piece about famous letters, so I looked online for some that I could write about. I ended up getting completely obsessed by it within about an hour. I realised I could sack off that article – I thought 'I can do these more justice'."

"About 80 per cent of the letters come from me looking for them; that can mean digging through anything from museum websites to internet archives.

"There are plenty of letters on the internet but they're often quite hidden. The archives on the museum sites are particularly hard to access. They're maze-like and not very accessible to normal people.

"The other 20 per cent of letters are sent to me from readers. That's growing as time goes on, but the majority come from monotonous searching on Google."

"The ones that get sent over by people tend to be the more personal ones, mainly from celebrities to fans. Which are brilliant actually, the most popular type of letters on the site. And most are previously unseen."

"There's a letter from Iggy Pop we published early last year. Iggy wrote back to a young girl who was having a tough time at home. It was beautifully written, you didn't quite expect it from someone like him."

"There's another, a memo called 'In Event of Moon Disaster' written by an advisor to Nixon. Within it there's a speech to be read out should Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not come back from the moon. It basically says, 'Armstrong and Aldrin are stuck on the moon and they're not coming back.' It's chilling, but really beautifully written."

"One that featured recently was a young lady [a German called Emma Hauck] who had been certified insane [in 1909] so she was put in a mental home. Years later they found all these letters she'd written to her husband asking him to come and get her. They just said 'sweetheart come, sweetheart come' over and over. Over thousands of times and pieces of paper. It was horrible. Really quite affecting."

"The most popular letter in terms of hits was a letter from John Kricfalusi, the creator of the cartoon Ren & Stimpy. It's eight or nine pages that he wrote to an aspiring animator, it's a guide to how to make it in animation and throughout it's illustrated with pictures of Ren and Stimpy."

"I get so much correspondence. The worst thing is that I haven't got time to reply to it all. Which is quite ironic given the focus of the website. But most days I get emails from people just offloading in response to the letters they've seen on the site."

"I put letters up online as and when I can, unless there's a particular event coming. Like last week with the death of Steve Jobs." [Letters of Note carried a typed 1983 letter from Steve Jobs with a signed Apple computer chip on it.]

"I've got thousands of them saved. There are 607 different letters on the site at the minute and that's the tip of the iceberg. As long as I can type I'll be uploading them."

"Collecting wasn't something that interested me until I found all these letters. I'm obsessed now. It's addictive. Actually finding them is quite mundane but once you've discovered one it's like a high. There's nothing more satisfying than finding a letter that you know everyone's going to enjoy."

Visit lettersofnote.com. The first Letters of Note book is due to be published next autumn

Iggy Pop's letter to a depressed fan

"Most of all I want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. You're obviously a bright fucking chick, w/a big heart too and I want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY 21st b'day and happy spirit."

You can read Iggy's note in full here: ind.pn/Iggyletter

REn & Stimpy creator john kricfalusi's letter of advice to a 14-year-old aspiring animator

"Good drawing is more important than anything else in animation. More than ideas, style, stories. Everything starts with good drawing. Learn to draw construction, perspective.

OK, now it's up to you."

Read John's letter in full: ind.pn/renstimletter

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project