Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Blog Tour with Dee White, Author of Letters to Leonardo

Today, as part of her international blog tour, we welcome wonderful Australian children's author Dee White to my blog.

Welcome to my blog, Dee. Thank you for visiting. I know you and Matt have been busy touring the Internet, so we're thrilled to have you here today. Dee has offered to share her experiences as a new writer journeying to publication. Her newly released book, Letters to Leonardo, took ten years from idea to printed book. I'll let Dee tell you more. Thanks Dee, now over to you.


Letters to Leonardo was inspired by a true story of a man who received a letter on his 21st birthday from the mother he had been told was dead.

As a writer, I thought, what an amazing story. I knew I had to write it down. But I didn’t know the person it had happened to – he was someone who worked with a friend. So I had no idea what happened next. In a way, this made it easier for me – my story would be limited only by my imagination.

I started thinking about the man who received the letter and how he must have felt. Imagine finding out that everyone has lied to you for most of your life. How betrayed would you feel?

I decided that how someone reacted to something like that would depend on their personality. Some would seek out the people who had lied to them and demand to know the truth straight away. People like me on the other hand, would be more cautious – and wonder whether this would only lead to more lies. I would want to do my research - get information from other sources to verify that this time I was being told the truth. But to cope with keeping this under wraps, I would need someone to vent to – Matt chooses Leonardo da Vinci to express his anger and hurt to.

Matt isn’t based on anyone I know but I think he reacts to his mother’s letter in much the same way as I would have.

Once I’d decided on my story idea, I had to come up with an explanation for Matt’s mother’s absence. Mental illness seemed like a plausible scenario.

To develop her character, I drew on real life incidents that had been told to me by my friend whose mother is bipolar. In addition to this, I did a lot of research to help me understand more about bipolar and how it affects sufferers and their families.


Writing Letters to Leonardo has taken more than ten years from initial idea to publication.

In 2002, I was awarded a mentorship. This meant that I worked with an established writer whose brief was to address the things I was having problems with in the manuscript.

My mentor had her own set of issues with my manuscript. She didn’t like the fact that the book had been written in first person because she felt it was harder to build up the suspense when you are writing from this point of view. And she told me to ditch Leonardo da Vinci as YA readers wouldn’t know who he was.

Being a very inexperienced writer at the time, I bowed to her greater wisdom, and Letters to Leonardo (my original story about an artistic boy who writers letters to Leonardo da Vinci) became Space (a novel about an astronomy geek who writes letters to Buzz Aldrin.)

I wasn’t happy with Space. Even though every word was mine, it didn’t feel like my story anymore. Even my main character was no longer the person I thought he was. It was a real dilemma for me. I had a completed manuscript – supposedly better because it had been mentored, but I wasn’t happy with it. So it sat in my bottom drawer while I hoped that someone would advise me what to do next.

In 2003, as part of my Professional Writing and Editing course at VUT, I was lucky enough to do work placement with a fantastic publisher who was willing to read my novel, and give me objective advice.

She thought that Space had ‘a compelling theme, evocative imagery and strong narrative drive’, but felt that there was something missing – that’s when I realised there was; what was missing, was ‘me’. My story had been taken over by my mentor.

The publisher suggested I go back and write the story that I originally intended to write. It was good advice. And I was so excited that someone had given me ‘permission’ to go back and ‘do my own thing’.

I was happy to be ditching Buzz Aldrin (sorry Buzz) because he had never inspired me. Having Leonardo da Vinci back in my life on the other hand was like welcoming back an old friend.

With great motivation and purpose, I re-wrote Letters to Leonardo – and spent the next four years getting it to a standard where I thought it might be publishable - that’s the story that’s being released by Walker books today (1st July).

Another reason that the book took so long to write was that I’d had a lot of trouble coming up with an ending that wasn’t weak and predictable. My problem was, I’d become so attached to my characters that I didn’t want anything bad happening to them. But with the escalation in Matt’s mothers behaviour; I really had no choice.

My son read the book, and he was very blunt and said it definitely needed a stronger ending. We discussed a couple of alternatives – and eventually I was able to finish my story.

In 2006 I came 3rd in the YA section at the CYA conference competition in Brisbane, and the judges were very positive about the book. This gave me the confidence to keep going – and eventually in 2008, I felt the book might be ready for a publisher to look at.

I went to the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference in Sydney in 2008, and had a manuscript assessment with Margaret Hamilton who was extremely positive and encouraging – and could even visualise the cover for the book.
As a result of the conference, Walker Books asked to see the manuscript, and decided to publish it.

As a writer, I have learned so much on this journey; and although I went off track for a while, the whole experience has taught me the importance of believing in, and sticking with your story.

Thanks Dee. What an amazing story of persistence. I'm glad you never gave up because Letters to Leonardo is a fabulous book. I'm reading it at the moment and loving it. Anyone who loves a good book will love Letters to Leonardo. Congratulations and well done, Dee!

Please visit the following blogs to join Dee and Matt on their worldwide tour:

24th June 2009


Dee and Matt talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.

25th June 2009


Author interview

26th June 2009


How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo

27th June 2009


The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo

28th June 2009


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

29th June 2009


An author interview covering things like inspiration and perspective

30th June 2009


Mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book

1st July 2009

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 2009


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

3rd July 2009


Working with a publisher and the editing process

4th July 2009


Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson

5th July 2009


Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo

6th July 2009


Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written

7th July 2009


Our US stop – and final destination before we head back home.

You can purchase Letters to Leonardo from the following websites:






Dee White said...

Hi Robyn, It's great to be here - only just made it in time - there's been a bit of cyber traffic around - and my satellite broadband goes into defensive driving mode on these occasions. Anyway, thanks for having us.

Dee and Matt:-)

Anonymous said...

It is rather interesting for me to read this post. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Kate Smith

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I have a inquiry for the webmaster/admin here at robynopie.blogspot.com.

May I use some of the information from this post above if I provide a backlink back to your website?


Robyn Opie said...

Hi William,

I'm happy for you to reproduce information from my blog, as long as the information is quoted accurately and copyright is acknowledged with a link back to the original post.

I hope that helps. Thanks for asking.

All the best,
Robyn Opie

Fiona Benson said...

This is a great affirmation of sticking to one's own voice and inspiration. An interesting read. I've posted the link onto my online writing group's site.