Friends Around the World

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, thinking about communicating with people in distant places and feeling nostalgic. These days international correspondence is almost commonplace. Blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and a host of other ways into cyberspace provide an instant connection to friends and strangers alike. Email and instant messaging allow those relationships to develop on a more personal level. You can even talk face-to-face if you want to, using cameras built into your computer or phone or whatever.

Okay, I’ve reached the limits of my technological knowledge. I write books on my computer. I do email, this blog, and I have a Facebook page. I have web pages for each of my names. And that’s about it. That’s enough to put me in touch with people from dozens of different countries. My “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women” in particular draws email from other lands and has, on occasion, led to lengthy correspondence.

And that brings me to what prompted this particular blog. Does anyone remember pen pals?

Back in the dark ages when I was growing up (that would be the 1950s and early 1960s), the way we reached out to people in other countries was by writing letters. It wasn’t fast, but oh the excitement when a letter arrived from Australia or India or Japan. For several years before I hit my teens, I was an enthusiastic pen pal. I’m not sure how I acquired the first one, but I know that there were pen pal sections in many publications, printing names and addresses of people looking for people to write to in other countries. One of those publications was a comic book I read regularly about a young model named Katy Keene. I wrote to one of the addresses in the pen pal section, possibly in Australia, and in time a letter came back. The person who’d originally advertised for a pen pal had done so several years earlier and was now quite a bit older than I was but she’d passed my letter on to a younger friend and I corresponded with that girl for a number of years afterward.

Looking back, memory faulty and the actual letters long gone, I don’t know what I wrote to various pen pals or, for the most part, what they wrote to me. I hope I didn’t inadvertently insult anyone. Certainly there were cultural differences that surprised me. My pen pal in Singapore, Vivien Yeo, wrote to tell me of her marriage . . . at thirteen. It was arranged by her parents. Hannelore Weiss, in Germany, sent me picture postcards . . . of buildings my father knew from first-hand experience had been bombed during World War II. Then there was Sonoko Mitsufuji (I think that’s the correct spelling but I won’t swear to it) from Japan. Her older brother paid a visit to the U.S. during the time we were corresponding and came and stayed with us. My father took him to a Rotary Club meeting.

I wish I still had those letters. If any of them sent me photos of themselves, those are long gone too. Sadly, so are most of their names. If I could remember more, given today’s technology, I might be able to reconnect with a few of my pen pals. There was Heather. Was she from Australia or New Zealand? I had a pen pal in each country. There was Carole from Bristol, England. I thought of her the first time I visited Great Britain at age twenty, but by then I’d already forgotten her last name and street address. My pen pal in India was a boy. He asked me to trace my feet and send the tracing to him. Nothing kinky. A few months later he sent me a pair of shoes. I sent him a photograph of me wearing them.

I don’t know why I stopped writing those letters or exactly when it happened. I suppose it was a gradual thing as I turned from kid into teenager and outgrew my interest in pen pals, and that the same thing was happening to my correspondents. What about you, our faithful blog readers? Did you have pen pals when you were younger? Did you keep in touch as you got older? And what do you think my chances are of reconnecting with one or two of my former pen pals now that I’m putting this post out on social media?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of more than fifty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (X Marks the Scot—December 2017) and Deadly Edits series (Crime and Punctuation—2018) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. New in 2017 is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and



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10 Responses to Friends Around the World

  1. Barb Goffman says:

    I loved writing and receiving letters as a kid. I desperately wanted a pen pal. My second-grade teacher somehow found me a few possibilities. They were all in the US. I recall exchanging letters a few times with one girl. But I don’t remember her name or any details. Corresponding with someone from another culture, as you did, Kathy, would have been fascinating. Good column!


  2. Gram says:

    I had a penpal in England, whose name I have forgotten. I think I still have pictures she sent packed away somewhere. Like you the correspondence just faded away as I got to my teens. I also wish I had kept it up.


    • Most teenagers are the same, I think. We get to that point and live in the moment and anything “childish” seems unimportant. There are many things I wish I’d kept. I’m lucky in that my parents held onto a lot of other things for me, especially photos.


  3. I always wanted a pen pal but never actually took the leap to find one. I think your chances of reconnecting with one or more of yours on social media are quite good. I hope you try, and let us know if it works out.


  4. Lea Wait says:

    I had two pen pals — Mary, from Fort Dodge, Iowa — and one who lived on a farm in Far Hills, New Jersey. As an adult I lived in the town next to Far Hills (no longer a town of farms). I remember finding it fascinating that both these girls took school buses to school. (I lived in a town where everyone walked — even if it was several miles.) I’ve often wondered what happened to my pen pals … and, later, as an adult, I wrote back and forth to several other single adoptive parents, some of whom I’ve still in touch with once in a while. Letters were important in those days! Real, hand-written, letters. –


    • And I’m old enough to remember getting real, handwritten fan letters, too! Those I’ve saved. Even the handwritten postcard that told me how much the reader disliked one of my romance novels because I’d given the hero two teenagers to raise.


  5. Lee says:

    I had a few pen pals as a child, and they did come from a magazine, but it never lasted long because I was a terrible correspondent. One was an older lady who scolded me for not writing back in a timely way. The whole thing was my parents’ idea, anyway, and I was never enthusiastic about it. But I do remember Katy Keene! I was about 10 when I discovered those comic books, and was inspired to do some fashion design of my own. That didn’t last long, either. I think I gave it up after Mom told me that red and purple didn’t go together. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


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