200-Year-Old Love Letter Inspires Online Serial Novel

Graham Simpson (Internet Photo-Gloucestershire News)

Ideas can come from many places when I’m writing. Often it’s a product of my desire to know the rest of a news story and if there isn’t one available, my mind will certainly fill in the missing pieces. Such is the case with the serial novel I’m writing and posting on Gifts Of The Journey. If you missed the first two chapters, you can catch up by clicking here and here.

I’ll be writing a new ‘chapter ‘ each week, none of which will be too long to read in a few minutes online so don’t let the word chapter put you off. Even though I am having a good time with it and can see that some of you are too, I would love to see how much of an audience we can build together.

With that in mind, I’m hoping you will take a few minutes to send it friends, blog about it yourself, or post a link on your social networking sites especially as we are only two chapters in and it’s still easy to catch up.

I may not be Charles Dickens, (‘King’of the serial novel) but I do have an intriguing tale evolving in my head that I think you and possibly your friends will enjoy. Rest assured, I’m writing a chapter a week so it could go off in directions that haven’t occurred to me yet and every chapter is a bit of a surprise to me as well.

One thing I found about writing in this style is that once you put it out there, you can’t go back and change an event if you change your mind. You have to find a way to write your way out if you get stuck in the history of what you’ve written. It’s already happened to me a time or two and I’ve decided that I am loving the challenge this involves.


Some of you may have noticed a similarity in ‘ Dear Madame’ to a recent news story and I want to share a bit of the details so you have an idea as to why some aspects of my story may seem familiar.

Earlier this year, an upholsterer in a shop in Tewkesbury, England found a 200-year-old love letter stuffed deep in an armchair purchased in France. After posting the letter on Facebook to have help in translating it, the romantic missive created a bit of media attention here in the UK when the BBC picked up the story. No one knows more than what is written in the letter and like many others, I wondered what the rest of the story might be.

Not long ago, I wrote a post challenging my readers to leave a comment so I might use one to write a mini short story. I found myself stopping at a point when there was still a story to be told although the story direction had not yet revealed itself to me.

Some of my readers seemed to enjoy it as much as I did and wished to hear more of the ‘Dear Madame ‘ storyline and it was while writing the next chapter that the idea came to me and the story of the two lovers and lost letter began to take shape.

Of course, the love letter is not the whole of the story, but only one part that will reveal itself as the story progresses. I hope you come back and see where it goes each week and thanks for sharing it with others in your world.

‘Dear Madame’ Chapter 2

Welcome to the next installment of ‘Dear Madame.’ If you haven’t read the first chapter, you may want have a look here, so Chapter 2 will make more sense. Thanks for your interest and please feel free to forward it on to friends and family who might enjoy the developing story line and if you use Twitter or Facebook, you can easily pass it on through the links to both when you click on comment. I’ll have Chapter 3 ready on Friday so don’t forget to come back and see what Patricia does next. 

Chapter 2

Patricia shifted slightly to dislodge a box of protein bars that had wedged under her left hip when she fell, but she made no move to get up from the nest of groceries and mail scattered on the floor. As she scanned the letter she held in her right hand, an expression more smirk than smile played at the corners of her mouth looking like a bit like a facial twitch instead of the beginnings of a true smile.

Aging had a way of doing that to you; taking a perfectly cute habit and turning it into something that looked as if you might need an ongoing Botox regimen to keep it from becoming a bigger issue later on.

A quick look at the letter carried her past the puzzling formality of the words,‘Dear Madame,’ but not before wondering who could be sending her mother mail of this sort. She half expected to see a request for her mother’s banking details and the offer to split someone’s unclaimed riches by the Lord High ruler of a fictitious country and was surprised by what followed next.

‘My dear Mrs. Reynolds, I hope you will forgive the play on words with my ‘Dear Madame’ greeting especially in light of the French subject matter of our correspondence. I was so excited to receive your letter that even now, I can hardly control my school boyish enthusiasm.

Never could I have imagined that there might be more letters connected to the one discovered in Tewkesbury earlier this year, but from first appearances it does seem as there is more of a story waiting to be told. I cannot be completely certain without a proper translation and authentication, but the copy of the letter you sent me does appear to have been written by the author of the 200-year-old love letter found by the upholsterer a few months ago, who has been making headlines around the world since.

Its popularity comes as no surprise to me as it seems the world in general is starved for news that has love at the center of its story versus the predominantly bad updates on foreign conflicts and collapsing financial markets.

There is so much we need to talk about Mrs Reynolds, and I am anxious to learn more about how this ‘box’ of letters you describe came to be in your possession. May I recommend that you fly to London with the letters in hand so we might continue our conversation over a cup of tea and a bite of lunch.

With your permission, I would also like to have someone there to review the letters while we discuss what to do next. Of course, I am happy to cover all the expenses related to your journey and look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

I would also like to apologize for the tardiness of my response to your enquiry. Without going into the details of my staffing woes, I hope you will accept my assurances that all future correspondence will be at lightening speed.

Not using the internet is certainly understandable and if letter writing works best for you, I will do all I can to accommodate. It does seem more fitting in a way that we use pen and paper when discussing the possible future of your box of letters and the story I hope they will reveal.

May I ask if we could speak on the phone regarding your travel arrangements and decide how soon I might persuade you to fly. If a trip to London is out of the question, perhaps you will allow me to meet with you somewhere closer to your home. My phone numbers are listed below and I am available anytime you wish to call. We are five hours ahead of you, but please call when it suits you best.’

Patricia realized her jaw had dropped and her mouth was hanging wide open right about the time she was finishing the letter. She checked the date on the envelope and tried to work backwards to see when her mother could have mailed a letter to London and wondered how she had even found this man?

She couldn’t imagine what box of letters he was referring to and she had only the vaguest memory of hearing some talk of an old love letter that had been found in a chair somewhere in England.

What had her mother been up to before she died, Patricia thought, as she considered what to do next.

‘Dear Madame’


I would like to thank everyone who joined the mini short story contest and took time to say hello and share a bit about themselves. I used Random.Org to choose a winner and hope you will enjoy the mini short story I created based on the comment selected by random.org. I thought it might be fun if you could guess which comment won using my story content for clues. I will reveal the winning comment on Sunday so people can have a few days to read, guess, and say in a comment which comment they think provided the inspiration for “Dear Madame.”

Patricia Reynolds stood in front a cluster of seventeen identical mailboxes not far from the condo where she lived alone. She juggled the shopping bags that dangled from both hands as she tried to keep them from touching the ground while guiding a tiny key into the locked box marked with a bold number six instead of her name.

It seemed she was always struggling with too much in her hands especially when she picked up the mail at the end of her day. She knew better of course, but she had to park so far from her door that two trips always seemed like one too many.

She wished the area around the mail drop was tidy enough to put the bags down, but too many times she’d noticed her neighbors picking up their mail after a walk with their dogs and she hated the way they seemed to regard the area as a last chance toilet break for their animals before going inside.

Moving carefully, she slid the stack of mostly business sized envelopes from the overstuffed mailbox and maneuvered it into the open top of the closest bag. Walking the short distance to her front door she inserted the largest key on the ring into the lock and pushed it open with her foot.

She stumbled inside just as one of the plastic bags tore open scattering the contents on the floor in front of her. Fatigue overwhelmed her for a moment and she felt as if she might cry. Frustrating did not begin to describe the day she’d had and on any other day she would have picked up every bit of the mess now at her feet while thinking about what her mama had always said about cleanliness being a virtue, or was it something about godliness, with patience as a virtue, she couldn’t remember which it was and today she was just too tired to care.

She felt worn out lately, even more so than normal with the recent increase in the amount of paperwork from her sales job. Well … you couldn’t exactly call it paperwork anymore she thought to herself, considering that expression would soon be obsolete as there was so little paper actually involved these days.

The endless call reports they were now required to submit were being done on the laptop that she’d jokingly referred to as Pia over drinks with her friends the last time she’d managed to join them.

As they moaned about how they never saw her anymore, she’d smiled as playfully as she could muster and said, “That’s because I have a new best friend who takes every minute of my day. I call her Pia, which is short for pain in the ass!”

They’d laughed at this poor attempt at humor and were gracious in saying how it was okay and that they understood how demanding her job was, but she had not been herself that night and she sensed something had changed in their group dynamic as well. It was not just Pia or things at work she’d thought on the drive home, but it was more likely the change in her relationship status that had made things seem awkward.

It was funny the way they seemed to miss Jeff more than she did at dinner, the empty chair obvious at the table made for eight. Patricia tried not to notice all the ways they had to shift the conversation over the evening to avoid mentioning him and while she appreciated their loyalty, she wanted to hug them collectively and shout that she was really okay.

There were things she’d missed about him when he’d first left, but sharing household chores and splitting expenses did not make a relationship and she had been okay when he’d announced he was leaving although sad that they had lost the spark of something she had hoped in the beginning would turn into more. They’d been fixed up by friends who loved them both and they had wanted to believe they were the match everyone else thought they would be.

She had soothed any bits of disappointment at their breakup by writing the words to a favorite quote across the glass of her bathroom mirror so that everyday she might be reminded that what she and Jeff had shared, was not really love. At least not the kind of love Pearl S. Buck was writing about when she said, “Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased. It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought.”

Patricia had no problem waiting for love although she had to admit she was a bit lonely at times and she sighed as she considered another night alone. Somewhere between the sigh and lifting her foot to step over the mess on the floor, she lost her balance as her back foot slipped after coming down on the stack of bills that had fallen with the groceries.

She grabbed at the table on her way down pulling the lamp over with her and landed in a heap on top of the pile in front of the door. The lamp was the first thing she checked after finding herself unharmed and it was then that she saw the letter.

Patricia noticed the blue air mail sticker before she saw a stamp with what looked like the head of a woman wearing a crown. The return address included the letters UK and she wondered for a half second if it had been delivered with her mail by mistake. Running her eyes across the front of the envelope she was momentarily surprised to see a name she recognized although it was not her own.

She shook her head as if to clear her confusion and remembered that she had requested her mother’s mail be sent to her after her death almost six weeks earlier. It wasn’t as if it was the first piece of mail she received addressed to her mom, but this one was different from the machine printed labels on the few bills she’d had to deal with to wrap up her mother’s business affairs; this one was handwritten and looked as if it might be personal.

Patricia turned it over and quickly ran a fingernail under the flap opening it with one stroke. She slid the folded paper out of the envelope noting that one of the two sheets of paper seemed thicker and of better quality than the other and there was an old photograph of someone she did not recognize included as well. One of the pages contained more of the same handwriting she’d seen on the envelope while the other was a photocopy of something that looked very old.

Still sitting where she’d fallen in the middle of the shopping and the mound of bills, she held one page in each hand unsure of which to read first. With the photocopied old letter in the left and the new one in her right she decided on the letter that began with the words, “Dear Madame.”