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Men of letters

A postman's job offers a nice little side-line in gratuitous spying on others. A novelist, of course, recreates such life on paper. So it is no surprise that for a number of writers, being a postman was their bread and butter in more ways than one.

Anthony Trollope was Clerk to the Surveyor of the South Western District of the Post Office in the 1850s. It was Trollope who initiated the design of the first Royal mail box and bullied customers into cutting holes into their doors so that the post man didn't have to ring twice.

American author, William Faulkner was a post master in the town of Oxford, Mississippi. Indeed this was the fictional setting for much his work. Hinting at the slow and introspective life of a postman (and writer), he described Oxford as where "the past is not dead, it isn't even past".

After his days in Burma and his stint down and out, George Orwell tried his hand at running a grocers shop and sub post office in Hertfordshire during the mid Thirties. The enterprise was not a success, however, the former shop is now a bijou residence that was recently sold for more than pounds 250,000.

Rising novelist Stephen Blanchard (author of Gagarin and I, and Wilson's Island) works in a Clapham sorting office in South East London. "It provides me with a routine, purpose and gives me time to write. I'm quite good at it, too," he says.

Frank McCourt won this year's Pulitzer prize for his childhood memoirs Angela's Ashes. Towards the end of the book he records his experiences as a Limerick telegram boy in the Forties - a job that ultimately enabled him to escape an existence of relentless poverty in Ireland and start a new life in the States.