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Saturday 13 July 2019

Guest Post: Dee White on Letters to Leonardo: A Second Chance

When Matt Hudson turns fifteen, he receives a birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. Why has his father lied to him for the last ten years? Matt doesn’t know who or what to believe. 

He sets out to find his mother, and the reasons behind her abandonment soon become clear. Assigned a letter-writing project at school, Matt writes to his idol – Leonardo da Vinci. 

This simple act helps him work through his feelings of betrayal, and understand how neglected mental illness can tear a family

Join Australian author, Dee White as she revisits an old friend and shares how she resurrected a story close to her heart. 

When I started writing Letters to Leonardo in the late 1990s, I was determined to do it my way. Nine years later when it was accepted for publication by Walker books Australia, I was lucky to have an amazing editor (Sue Whiting) who helped me realize that getting my YA novel accepted was just the beginning. I still had a lot of work to do.

Letters to Leonardo is the story of Matt Hudson who receives a fifteenth birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. He decides to go looking for her and find out why she has been absent from his life, and why his father lied to him about her death. Matt helps make sense of his feelings of betrayal and confusion by writing to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci.

Initially, Letters to Leonardo was all letters, but my editor, Sue persuaded me that the book would work much better as a combination of letters and text, which it did.

The structure of the story didn’t change much over the nine years it took to write, but I always agonized over the ending. There were a number of obvious ways to bring my main character Matt’s journey to its conclusion, but I didn’t want a clichéd finish. Letters to Leonardo was my first novel to be published and I was determined to get it right, and to do things my way. I created an ending that wasn’t clichéd or predictable, but it left some readers unhappy, and after a while, I began to understand why.

A Second Chance

Due to a number of circumstances, Letters to Leonardo took 10 years to make it to publication in Australia and New Zealand. It was so thrilling to see my long nurtured book in the hands of readers, but unfortunately, it was never released overseas. This book was so dear to my heart and I had spent such a large part of my life writing it. I felt it still had a journey to make.

In the 10 years since Letters to Leonardo was first published I became less certain about the ending. I had by now read many young adult books, and raised two young adults of my own. I realized that while young adult readers could endure many hardships for characters, there still had to be hope that these characters could overcome the odds. Readers accept that characters will be changed by what happens to them, just as real people are changed by life. But readers want to know that the characters they have connected with, have taken this journey with, will be okay in the end.

For young adults, in real life and in books, the most important people to them are their friends. Good friends can help them get through almost anything. It was this realization about the importance of friendship and hope to young adult readers that motivated me to create a new ending for my book.

Now all I had to do was find a publisher willing to take a second chance on Letters to Leonardo. This time I was looking for one who would take my book beyond Australia and New Zealand, one who would take my story into the wider world.

A US friend told me about Mazo Publishers, a small but dedicated company willing to republish books that have done well elsewhere. Thanks to Mazo Publishing, Letters to Leonardo has been given a second chance to find its way to young adult readers, and Matt has been given another chance at happiness.

Dee White is the author of more than 20 books across all genres for children and young adults. She will do just about anything (including ride a camel, jump out of a plane and walk through a Paris sewer) to explore a story.

Read our KBR 2010 review of Letters to Leonardo and keep a look out for our review of the revised edition, The Truth Changes Everything. Visit the publisher's website or Amazon to purchase the book.

Title: Letters to Leonardo: The Truth Changes Everything
Author: Dee White
Publisher: Mazo Publishers, $21.50
Publication Date: 6 June 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781946124555
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction