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Coronavirus: 'I'm self-isolating - but I have 26 pen pals'

A teenager who is in self-isolation during the spread of coronavirus has said writing to pen pals is helping her to remain connected to other people.

Gracie Stewart, 17, has notched up 26 pen pals after deciding she wanted a "quirky" hobby three years ago.

Eighteen months ago she was diagnosed with a rare leukaemia and Gracie said she planned to use her 12 weeks in quarantine writing more letters.

She urged others in a similar position to use the time to "try something new".

The music performance student, from Norwich, has been undergoing hospital treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia and has been told it is incurable.

Gracie said she went into self-imposed isolation on Monday but her father has already posted a bundle of letters to her pen pals across the world.

"It preoccupies you writing letters because it can be dull when you're stuck indoors all day," she said.

"My pen pal in Japan has been in isolation so I sent her something to say 'I hope you're ok'."

"It's connecting with people and finding a common ground.

"I'm so happy that I chose it as a hobby - I've learnt so much.

"Everyone is quite scared and frazzled at the moment so to come together with others is the one thing you can do to stop yourself being lonely."

Her pen pals live in countries including Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

She said she spent hours writing letters in highlighters, decorating envelopes, swapping recipes, book recommendations and even created personalised playlists.

Gracie said letters from her friends around the globe brightened her days, even in more normal times.

"It's magical coming home after a stressful day - you can get an email or an Instagram DM - but when you pick up a beautiful hand-written card that someone's written with their heart... and you open it - it's a whole bright lovely moment.

"They are all amazing. It's a little bit of magic posted through your door and it's so beautiful. I love it.

"It's such a wholesome lovely hobby and I truly recommend it."

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