Lessons learned about writing after sending letters of protest to the government.

I sent two letters of protest a couple of weeks ago, one to the chancellor, the other to my MP.  You may remember in a previous post I drew your attention to some huge cuts being proposed for Adult Education.

This week I received replies.

Spotlight on lemons

Spotlight on lemons, by addictioncam@gmail.com

I hadn’t expected either recipient to do an about turn, or ask me for more ideas about how Adult Education classes work on all levels.  I hoped to get a thank you: a recognition that I’d felt strongly enough to spend time thinking through some arguments.

My first reply came from The Department for Business Innovation and Skills.  It began:

…the chancellor receives a large amount of correspondence every day and is unable to respond to each one personally. As Further Education (FE) falls within the policy area of this Department, your correspondence has been passed to this Department and on this occasion I have been asked to reply…

My correspondent, Richard O… then proceeded to quote figures and facts regarding government policy on apprenticeships, traineeships and English and Maths.  All of which are undeniably important, but have no connection with the points I made in my letter.

My MP’s reply arrived a day later:

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I do agree that Adult Education is very valuable. ‘

It was a good start.  If only he hadn’t gone on to say, ‘and is not only vital for assisting people make progress into work, but also adapt to changing job contexts.’

The truth is, that he wasn’t agreeing with me.  He was using a phrase from my letter as a spring-board for spouting party-line.  And, since I had no opportunity to interrupt, I got harangued for a further four paragraphs.

I’ve been trying to put a positive slant on my frustration with these answers.  What I’m most aware of is feeling some fellowship with the political journalists who regularly and patiently take part in this kind of jousting.

Did either man bother to read my letter?  It’s impossible to guess.  Somewhere, I assume, someone has added another mark to a list that keeps the score on protest letters received, and that, after all, was why I wrote it.  So despite my irritation I do still feel that we should sit down and write a letter.

Looking at this from a writerly point-of-view though, brings me to a more positive frame of mind. I’m reminded of two things.

Firstly, never get on a soap box to tell a story.  Writing that makes overt political points is boring, unless the reader happens to already share the writer’s views.  No doubt my letter was as tedious to the recipients as these two directives were to me.

Secondly, when writing dialogue, remember that characters don’t always respond directly to what has been said.  Conversations often happen at cross-purposes.  Such circumstances illuminate character and can be amusing.

The only decision I’m left with now is whether, having been handed two lemons, I make a cake or a cocktail…

lemon cook book