Letters to Leonardo

Dee White is celebrating the release of her first novel for young adult readers, ‘Letters to Leonardo’.

‘Letters to Leonardo’ is the story of Matt, who on his fifteenth birthday, receives a birthday card from the mother he thought died ten years earlier.

As if being fifteen doesn’t have enough challenges, Matt’s world is unravelled by a single birthday card. His father has lied to him, his mother is alive. What else in his life can he believe in? He turns to a long dead artist, searching for truth.

‘Letters to Leonardo’ is a very powerful story. It takes the reader on a wild ride through Matt’s world as he struggles to make sense of that which can make no sense. Life is not neat and tidy, or constructed according to rules like paintings are meant to be. Life is messy. Life breaks as many rules as it follows. All we can do is make our way through as best we can with the tools we are given.

Dee visits today to talk about why she chose Leonardo Da Vinci as a mentor for her main character, Matt.

Why do young adults need mentors?

Young adult novels are read by people making the transition from childhood to adulthood.

It is a time when in real life parents can drive their kids crazy because the kids are trying to assert themselves and their independence. In ancient civilisations, the entire community used to support and guide the person undergoing the transition to adulthood.

Do young adults need mentors more now than in times past?

Today, kids have so many dilemmas and decisions. Often, they don’t have a community behind them, but they do need an adult who is not a parent to help guide them as they assert themselves and make their way into the wider world. They need someone who can help them understand the changes that are going on inside them, and in their broader environment.

So, why Leo?

Leonardo da Vinci seemed like the ideal choice for Matt because there were many similarities between them:

1. both were taken away from their mothers when young and essentially, grew up without them;
2. both were seekers of truth;
3. both were artistic and sensitive;
4. both were controlled when young by their fathers;
5. both were perfectionists;
6. both had to deal with becoming reacquainted with their mother after some years of separation.

I also wanted a mentor who was dead so he couldn’t write back, as this would have taken the story in a whole new direction. It also allowed Matt to mature in a more reflective way.

By choosing Leonardo as Matt’s mentor, I was able to incorporate some of his artworks into the story to represent things that were going on in Matt’s life at the time – and to reflect his emotions. This allowed me to show the depth of Matt’s anguish in a symbolic way.

Thanks Dee.

Follow the tour:

24th June 2009 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

Dee and Matt talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.

25th June 2009 http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com

Author interview

26th June 2009 http://thebookchook.blogspot.com

How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo

27th June 2009 http://belka37.blogspot.com

The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo

28th June 2009 http://weloveya.wordpress.com

Guest blogger – talking with Vanessa Barneveld – interactive discussion with bloggers

29th June 2009 http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale

An author interview covering things like inspiration and perspective

30th June http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com

Mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book (ahem, that’s here)

1st July Cyber launch http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com including cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com – hurdles overcome on the way to publication.

2nd July http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com

How the author’s life paralleled Matt’s – her growing obsession with Leonardo da Vinci

3rd July http://bjcullen.blogspot.com

Working with a publisher and the editing process

4th July http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com

Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson

5th July http://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com

Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo

6th July http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written

7th July http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com

An overseas stop before heading home

A Good Daughter

After I had resigned from my community health job to take the plunge into full time writing (and was working through my ‘notice’ period), one of my workmates told me there was another writer working at a nearby site (large organisation with 7 sites and more than 200 workers).

People sometimes laugh when I tell them that in my previous working life I was a podiatrist. They laugh at the disparity between the two jobs. But I always found that people were keen to share their stories, and for me, it was fascinating to hear them. Our organisation existed in a culturally diverse community. Such powerful stories. So for me the leap from community health wasn’t such a big one.

But I digress…back to Amra…

As luck would have it, our paths didn’t cross until my final day, and then only by phone. But it was like my two work worlds colliding, talking with a workmate about passion for story. At that point, Amra had yet to place her novel, although the manuscript was receiving serious attention. Then Text did take it and recently ‘A Good Daughter’ hit the streets.

Amra Pajalic‘s ‘A Good Daughter’ is a novel for young adult (ya) readers but like the best ya, it also rewards the adult reader. Her main character Sabiha, is 15 years old, Australian-born with Bosnian heritage. Until now, her mother has shown little interest in her Bosnian heritage, but now everything has changed. ‘A Good Daughter’ explores the life of a western- suburbs teenage girl with humour and insight, without glossing over any of the challenges. Realistic, gritty, funny.

I found it a riveting read.

Writing is Dangerous

I like Saturday mornings. I get up, fetch the papers, make breakfast and a pot of tea and sit and read in my dressing gown. Bliss.

This morning I thought I’d make soup at the same time. Great time management. Until…

I cut a snippet out of the paper and went into my office to add it to a folder of research on Early Melbourne. Then I sat down in front of the computer. Then thought I’d just start a review, just put the title etc down. But I began writing the review and then a second.

Oops, the smell of soup wafted through from the kitchen. Hmm. Not a good soup smell, a burning-a-hole-in-the-saucepan smell. Oh dear. I’ve decanted the soup into another saucepan and put out the ‘fire’ in the pan. Only time will tell if the burn has added a frisson of smoky flavour to the soup or an inedible charcoalness.

Lucky I wasn’t working on a novel…the pan may indeed have melted and…

As I said, writing is dangerous.

I’d like to be under the sea…

I’ve spent the last three days as one of the guest speakers at a primary school on the other side of town. It was a festival celebrating the ocean. I was doing storywriting workshops with groups of children, each group containing all primary ages from prep to year 6 students.

Speakers/presenters included a soundscape artist, a dancer, a paper sculptor, an environmental artist, specialists in ocean ecology and conservation. There were also puppet-making sessions and cooking activities. Music performances happened in the breaks and there was an ice sculpted dolphin and a life-size inflatable whale.

Intense, exhilarating, exhausting. An enormous organisational challenge for the school coordinating everything, but it seemed to go swimmingly (sorry).

The festival finished with a ‘closing ceremony’ where many of the workshop activities were shared with the greater school body. It was really interesting to see how others worked with the children and to see other approaches to telling the ‘story’ of the ocean.

Fantastic stuff. I used my soon-to-be-released ‘There Was An Old Sailor’ in the workshops as well as my bollard Sailor.

I also managed to slip in a couple of readings of ‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’. Both books are in their ‘undressed’ state, but the children didn’t seem to mind too much.

Great fun.

elemental, my dear

Where I live is near the sea and a river and one day when I’m rich and famous (not holding my breath here), I’m going to live where I have uninterrupted views of the ocean or a big river. But until then, I’m happy to live as close to both as I do.

I walk along the river with Emmi, our CKC spaniel sometimes and it’s always different. Here’s how it looked the other day. Although that shower is passing us by, there were others that stopped to visit. Yay!

The nail (or whatever) I found near the railway line. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps part of a rail nail?

The wood is part of the pier. The waves in the wood, imitating the waves beneath the pier?

Just liked them, is all.

Reading Matters 2

I ran out of time the other day to really finish writing about RM conference, so here we are again.

After the sessions on Friday there was a reception, peopled by delegates and speakers but also by many other Vic creators. It was quite difficult to move really…not because of crowding but because everytime I tried, I’d start another conversation or waylay/be waylaid by other people. Fantastic fun, gorgeous food. Some good potential connections too. The exhibition ‘Independent Type books and writing in Victoria’ was also opened, but I determined to go back to that another day.

Back to the program…

Cathy Casssidy, Mo Johnson and Chris Wheat talked about romance in their stories, including the appropriate levels of romance for diff age-groups. More books for the wishlist ( CC Angel Cake, MJ Boofheads, CW Screw Loose)

Another session was titled ‘Where I’m coming from’ and the writers were the blue-haired Anthony Eaton, Mal Peet, James Roy and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Each talked about their background and entry into particular stories. About now, I stopped taking notes really because I just wanted to listen.

So I’m really sorry about the sessions I’ve missed recording, but the content was inspiring. It was great to spend time with known faces, and to meet new ones. My final job is to empty my bag of all the business cards (okay and that serviette) and sort them.

Reading Matters

I’m just now surfacing after a fantastic weekend at Reading Matters Conference. This conference is held every second year and is an initiative of Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Literature. The focus is works for young adults, which includes everything from Libby Gleeson/Armin Greder picture books to crossover novels that could equally be read by young adults and …well…all other adults.

I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy listening but here are a few of the bits that spoke to me…

John Green, author of Paper Towns talked about being an individual around whom the world spins. He said that perspective sometimes changes as we age…but sometimes not. He reported being sure that everyone around him was alien and sneaking out after bedtime to catch his parents out of ‘human costume’ but they were always too fast.

Teenagers like to read about themselves, AND about ‘other’. He also said he often knew his characters much better than he knew even close friends.

Alison Goodman (The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and Isabelle Carmody (The Stone Key) shared a conversation about their writing processes and more.
Isabelle reads non fantasy as inspiration…more for style than content. For her landscape comes from character emotion…bog might indicate depression, a mountain might indicate character is feeling better. For Alison, landscape was setting. Isabelle takes no notes but continues to ‘gather’ ideas until she has enough to begin writing. Alison reported being much more of a planner.

Reimagining History was the title of a session with MT Anderson (The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing), Bernard Beckett (Genesis) and Michelle Cooper (A Brief History of Montmaray).

MT Anderson talked about novels being ‘alienation from what you know so you can reapproach what you know’

and all talked about their wish to explore the strangeness of the time they wrote about. Each would be keen to visit the worlds about which they wrote…provided they could first be vaccinated!

Several writers read from their novels including Adrian Stirling (Broken Glass), Tristan Banks (Mac Slater: Cool Hunter), Cathy Cassidy (Angel Cake), Mo Johnson (Boofheads.

Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder discussed their collaboration through six books so far.

Other speakers included Anthony Eaton, Mal Peet, James Roy, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Amra Pajalic and (a jet-lagged but you wouldn’t have known it)Tim Flannery.

Add in fantastic food, plenty of opportunities to mix with librarians, teachers, publishers, editors and fellow creators and you have the recipe for an exhilarating but exhausting weekend.

I have still to go through my collection of contacts and cards (and yes, even one set of details on a cocktail napkin) but that will all wait for a day or two.

Tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne’s south east to do some workshops with Year 9’s. Really looking forward to it to.

A Star is born…

This gorgeous verse novel, written by Lorraine Marwood is released today by Walker Books. Ruby lives on a dairy farm and times are tough. But there is always room for hope.

I asked Lorraine a few questions…

Why Star Jumps as a title?

I love titles- this one just came, it encapsulated in one word the hope that the three children felt for their future. And it’s a sort of symbol of jumping above one’s problems. Whereas the title for Ratwhiskers came after many tries, many tries.

This is your second verse novel. How did the experience of writing it compare to writing Ratwhiskers?

Ah, ‘Ratwhiskers’ broke new writing ground for me and it combined years of interest and research into gold mining history. ‘Star Jumps’ was initially a challenge- how to write a second book in the same style without becoming ‘samey’. For me it’s the tone, the first line, the first stanza that sets the whole atmosphere for the book. And I loved how Ruby and a different setting came swiftly to my rescue.

This book evolved from years of dairy farming life. I’ve always lived on a farm, until the last few years. I often came across stereotyped ideas of what farm life was like, I wanted to re-create one season in a dairy farming calendar and have Ruby showing the readers a slice of her life. So her voice was crucial to the writing. If I got Ruby right then the rest flowed, well sometimes it meandered and stalled but the essence was there.

Star Jumps has its origins in your own farm experiences. Was that a difficult thing to do?

Yes, I’ve always wanted to write a farm story. It is based loosely on activities my own children did on the dairy farm, an intimate knowledge of the workings of a dairy farm and my own childhood response to drought.

But because I always wanted to be a farmer and we’d made the decision to sell the farm, this experience was a leave taking, a tear jerker, and nearly every line was written with tears. When I had my May Gibbs residency in Adelaide it was only a few weeks before, that I’d lost my father in-law and he was a dairy farmer too. So it’s to the farming families who work so hard and so closely together, that this book is written.

Do you start at the start and end at the end or do you write bits and then join them together?

This one is easy- I start at the beginning and continue on, bit by bit each day.

I had a recent ‘conversation’ with Dale Harcombe about setting. How do you create your settings? Do you find settings easy or difficult to conjure?

Settings for me are based on visited physical settings or am amalgamations of them. Star Jumps is clearly our farm- the flat vista, the calving pen of marshmallow weed, the echo of noise along the flat main raod in the distance, the frost, the glorious sun rises, the cows chewing their cuds and then choosing the middle of a stormy night to calve. Setting is also sensory for me as a poet, it has to have a foreshadowing of emotion too. But I can see the setting- its open expanse and then the singling to a room or shed or corner.

I have to have walk or visited the setting first- Ratwhiskers was set on the old gold mines of my child hood- I knew the bush, the area. But this is part of the research first to pick the setting like a camp iste for its best features, most conducive to the flow of the story. It’s not hard it just takes time for me.

Was it hard to get into the head of the main character? How did you do that?

Ruby had a voice of her own as the youngest in the family she was allowed to be naive but still light that flare of hope that steadily burns through the whole book. While not directly modelled on one of my daughters she had some traits and actually grew of her own accord, even to claiming some of the things I tried to do as a child when I first saw the effects of drought on out little farm. Ruby is one of my most fully rounded and independent characters. I wish she could speak for me at my upcoming book launch.

What’s next for you?

Writing more poems, another verse novel- I need to research that- I’ve found a topic I’m passionate about and that is the starter point for me- passion. And strangely enough the passion for the topic might overflow into another genre I’ve always wanted to do: historical fiction with a smidgeon of romance and definitely a rip roaring adventure. This might silence those comments, ‘…but have you written a novel???…’ A poem is often a rare and concentrated novel in a few stanzas.

There are more details about Star Jumps here