Every November I try to write a novel. Sometimes I succeed. I am one of the millions of participants in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. All you have to do is write 50,000 words in a month. I say ‘all’. I’ve managed to complete a rough first draft four times now, and the other years I have the excuse that I was writing a PhD and that was going to take me rather longer than a month. Still, if you can do it, you will get a real buzz of achievement, as well as potential RSI. Aside from the chance to let my imagination run free, what I love most about NaNoWriMo is the community. Writing a novel at speed might seem like the ultimate in solitary hobbies, but in fact, thanks to the forums, chat rooms and physical get-togethers, (remember those?) it’s like a month-long writing festival, complete with pep-talks from famous writers. Unlike a festival, the nano-ers are all around the world, so one way to encourage a fellow writer far away is to send them a postcard full of wit and inspiration. The postcard swap is organised centrally, so each writer knows a little bit about the person receiving their card, but that’s it. I sent out ten postcards and made a couple of friends as a result.
One postcard I received came from America, and was covered in stamps, including stamps with apples on! Someone had thought carefully about how to inspire me.
These 1 cent stamps were from a series issued in Washington State in 2016, and it seems there was a bit of controversy about them. How on earth can an apple on a stamp get anyone upset, I wondered. Well, it can if it’s the ‘wrong’ apple.
The stamp shows the Albermarle Pippin, also called the Newtown Pippin, a delicious and historic apple. However, according to the Yakima Herald, a Washington State newspaper, “the stamp honors an obscure, mostly East Coast variety that is not seen much in Washington, which by far produces more apples than any other state in the country; the Yakima Valley, of course, is the epicenter of the state’s industry.
The stamp features the Albemarle Pippin, one of Thomas Jefferson’s two favorite varieties, a historical nicety that no doubt resonates in states that comprise the 13 original colonies. A better pick would have been one of the varieties (Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, even Red Delicious) that have rightly made the Yakima Valley famous.’ (29 August 2016)
The paper’s other complaint was that ‘it’s a 1-cent stamp, which hardly seems respectful for a fruit that over more than two centuries has come to symbolize Americana.’
This shows just how strong the feelings can be about good apples, bad apples and favourite apples. Whatever the variety, the pen, ink and watercolour illustration by John Burgoyne is just right for a stamp. It followed on from John’s earlier designs for four different apples on 33 cent stamps (so the Yakima Herald’s second complaint doesn’t really stand up).
John himself said in the Boston Globe “I think the apple is such a great symbol. I think it’s pretty iconic. It makes people feel good when they look at them. It triggers a lot of memories.” (18 January 2013)
Memories are made, and held dear, in letters, postcards and greetings cards. Real post, with actual handwriting, and pretty stamps. Write some, send them off, hope to get some back.