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My Love Letter Time Machine: Co-writing with my great-great-grandparents

My Love Letter Time Machine Victorian Drama podcast interview


My Love Letter Time Machine: Co-writing with my great-great-grandparents

Have You Heard? is where the Pod Bible team meet the people behind the podcasts you may not have heard of yet…

My Love Letter Time Machine came to our attention via a few networking events, and most recently when it was Shortlisted for the International Women’s Podcast Awards 2022. Host Ingrid Birchell Hughes has both sides (extremely rare) of a correspondence between her great great grandparents spanning 1878 to 1882. Her narration does a great job of reading the letters whilst explaining the ‘characters’ (including, her ancestor Fred, his friend – also called Fred – and their friend Ted) and sharing her own thoughts.

We caught up with Ingrid to ask her more about the show!

Who are you and what’s your podcast about?

I’m Ingrid Birchell Hughes and I’ve been an art director, writer and journalist for about 30 years now. My podcast is ‘My Love Letter Time Machine’ where I am serialising the 200+ love letters of my great great Grandparents, Janie and Fred. The letters have been passed down the family – a bit like grandma’s wedding dress – and when I first read them I was amazed how much their characters and wit sparkled off the page. So now, each week I take my listeners 140 years back in time to catch up with Fred and Janie’s story, and take a look at Victorian history through their eyes.

Ingrid - host of My Love Letter Time Machine

What was the first podcast you ever listened to?

Probably RHLSTP with Richard Herring, which is huge now, but when he first started it I think I probably didn’t really understand what podcasts were about, I was just tuning in because it was fun.

Why did you decide to start podcasting in the first place?

A lot of podcasts have as their strength a conversation developing over time, well I’ve got both sides of a correspondence here (which is super rare) – it’s basically a conversation, albeit one that took place 140 years ago. Presenting that within the framework of a podcast felt more natural than I could ever have hoped. I’d been searching for a long time to bring Janie and Fred’s words to life, especially after blogging my research on the letters, on and off, for about five years. Whenever I shared their story with people – they sort of get hooked and want to know more. So rather than waking up one morning and thinking ‘oh I know, I’ll be a podcaster’ it was more that the story in the letters was driving me to find the right vehicle. Although now, I completely love doing the podcast and when the story eventually comes to an end, I know I’ll be wanting to do another.

Fred Shepherd

Which podcasts do you take inspiration from?

Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green taught me that podcasts don’t have to be interview based to tell a story — that with a good script, a single voice can bring people along on a journey. I found Griefcast by Cariad Lloyd a real comfort, and showed me that podcasts have real power in enabling people to tell their stories to a depth you don’t often experience outside podcast-land.


Who’s your dream guest for the podcast?

Historian Dr Kate Lister from the podcast Betwixt the Sheets, I love the work she’s been doing to rewrite our preconceptions about the history of human sexuality. The letters are not exactly ‘my great great Grandfather wrote a porno’ but if you read between the lines of the (often startling) Victorian euphemisms, Janie and Fred share a lot of intimacy. It would be a total dream to get Kate’s expert and refreshingly down to earth opinion on their relationship and how it might relate to her research.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far as a podcaster?

Writing a script for a serial podcast is completely different to writing for anything else – you have to really pay attention to the flow and not let anyone get left behind, especially as my ‘co-writers’ — AKA my great great grandparents — constantly need their letters putting into context. And I’ve also discovered the dubious joy of making historical sound effects, which has been a bit of an adventure. Recreating the atmosphere of holiday makers on the seafront of Blackpool in 1879, or a street brawl outside a pub that’s then broken up by the local bobby, has been a challenge but such a lot of fun.

Which episode would you say is the perfect introduction to your podcast?

If you want the set up for the early part of the story obviously start with the first one. But if you want get a flavour of the back and forth of the correspondence, try the first episode of Season 2. It’s called ‘From City of Steel to Ironopolis’ where Fred and Janie are learning how to deal with a long distance relationship, after Fred moved from Sheffield to Middlesbrough to start his new job as a clerk at the North Eastern Steel Company.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The next season (season 4) of My Love Letter Time Machine will be out the weekend just before Valentine’s Day. I also share lots of Janie and Fred’s letters and pictures on the @MyLoveLetterTimeMachine’ Instagram.

My Love Letter Time Machine

Listen to My Love Letter Time Machine on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular podcast apps

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