Boys write letters too

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
BETWEEN YOU AND ME: Real-life Diaries and Letters by Women Writers. Edited by Charlotte Cole. The Women's Press Pounds 4.99.

In the course of a school career spanning, say, from Years 5 to 11, how many times has a student been asked to write a letter or a series of diary entries, whether in English, history or RE?

From experience and anecdotal evidence, I would guess several hundred. Yet how often do we offer them letters and diaries as examples? Maybe half a dozen times? This disparity is one of the things which Between You and Me can be used to address.

A modestly-priced and modestly-produced volume, it is none the less full of riches, not the least being the quiet, accessible introductions to the entries, and the useful biographical section at the back of the volume.

That said, it is a pity that the book focuses solely on women's writing. The tenor is set in the foreword, with a throwaway aside about "women . . .always the best communicators".

However true the statement may be, if I were a boy reading that I would immediately feel aggrieved and resistant; a resistance which the very feminine tone and concerns of some of the entries - a whole section on relationships almost entirely devoted to boyfriends - would do nothing to dispel.

But there are some excellent things here - a very moving diary account of a young girl's struggle to come to terms with her mother's slow death from cancer - and, thank heavens, a very upbeat series of letters from Sylvia Plath.

The arrangement of the book into a series of thematically-based entries - school, ambitions, travel, friends, family and relationships - will enable teachers to slot it easily into existing schemes of work, and use it as a springboard for the students' own writing - at least, if the students are girls.

Sarah Matthews is a former head of English at Chipping Norton School, Oxfordshire

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