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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: POST MARKED PIPER’S REACH


We have a rather unusual submission for First Impressions this month.  POST MARKED: PIPERS REACH is a contemporary epistolary novel by Adam Byatt and Jodi Cleghorn. Adam wrote the character of Jude, and Jodi wrote the character of Ella-Louise. The original letters were hand written and sent in real time through the post under a ‘no spoilers policy’ of organic narrative development. From April 2012 – June 2013 the letters were published as a web serial. This novel is a reworking of those letters.

Friday 6th January, 2012

Dear Jude,

Please excuse the crappy yellow legal pad. Had I waited to find fancy stationery, I might never have sat down to write. Your parents are still listed at Blecker Street, so I’m sending the letter there and hopefully they’ll pass it on to you.

Why don’t I just ring your Dad, see if you’re alive and well, and get your phone number or an email address? I can’t. I need to write and do it old school with pen and paper. Think about each word before I put it down (and swear because my hand is already aching from writing more than I have in a decade). To send an email would be like warping the fabric of space and time. But then again, writing a letter to you after so long, feels a little like that anyway.

When we sat at The Point watching the sun come up on 1992 I believed in an eternity of New Year’s Eves with you, my best friend, by my side. I had no idea that it would be our last.

Just so you know, it hasn’t taken me twenty years to forgive you for not showing up at my farewell party. Or at the bus the next day. You did me a favour. Had you come to say good-bye, I don’t think I would have had the courage to go and leave you behind.

I quit my job at the end of last year. Decided it was time for a sea change, to reassess what’s important in life. Important to me. I’ve bought an old weatherboard cottage just up the coast from Coffs Harbour. It’s not Piper’s Reach (I couldn’t go back there) but I’m near the ocean again. I can lie awake at night and hear the crash of the waves, smell the salt and seaweed.

Finding the shoebox with your letters and other teenage stuff (I still have the chewie wrapper you gave me the first day we met) it felt like no time had passed. But at the same time, like I’ve lived several lives since then. Guess I have in a way.

Reading your old letters there were events I remembered and others I’d forgotten – like the first thing I ever said to you was I didn’t kiss boys so you thought I was a lesbian until I pashed Bart Lehmann at the Year 10 social.

First of all, I have to say that I’ve never heard of a novel being written this way before, especially in today’s world of instant communication. It’s quite original – and because I’m a pantster who also lets stories develop organically, I’m intrigued! The voice of the first letter writer (Ella-Louise) comes through strongly in this opening, and the premise is clear: She is trying to re-connect with a close friend (possibly a lover) whom she hasn’t spoken to in twenty years via the medium they used in the past. Letters.
There’s not a lot of things I can critique in this passage, because it’s pretty smooth. There’s just the right amount of past and present mixed together, and enough places mentioned to provide a clear image of setting without being confusing.
I did have to look up the phrase “sea change,” and then I felt dumb because it’s from Shakespeare. I also had to look up “pashed” to learn it mean “passionately kissed.” I guessed it was something like that from the context, but I’d never heard of the word. Jodi and Adam are from Australia, so maybe the word is more common there? Or maybe I’m just out of touch.  Can anyone else chime in on that?
I also stumbled over Finding the shoebox with your letters and other teenage stuff – because I wondered what “teenage stuff” meant. Maybe it could be re-phrased as Finding the shoebox with your letters and other remnants of our teenage years, or something like that.
Other than those small points, I found the selection engaging and well-written. Readers, what do you think?

Jodi and Adam, thank you for sharing your first page with us! Everyone should be sure to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page, as well as visit Adam and Jodi at their website.

15 Responses to First Impressions: POST MARKED PIPER’S REACH

  1. This really does sounds like a very unique style…interesting!!

  2. Dear Diane,

    many thanks for hosting us as part of First Impressions.

    You’re right, “pashed” is an Australian colloquialism for kissing. It was used in the early 1990s when Jodi and I were in high school, the same time Ella-Louise and Jude were in high school.

    Then there’s “pash rash” which is what you get when kissing a boy with a stubbled face. We might have to put that term into the novel now.

    If readers are interested, Jude answers some of the questions raised by the opening letter but it also raises more questions.

    Last year, we wrote a Christmas Special. It gives an insight into one night in the life of Ella-Louise and Jude in 1991. It encapsulates their relationship as developed and reflected in their letters in the present. If people are interested, they can read it here: http://postmarkedpipersreach.wordpress.com/christmas-special/

    Again, many thanks for having us.
    Adam Byatt

  3. I really loved this. There were a few nitpicky things about punctuation, but otherwise it made me want to sit down and keep reading!

  4. Linda G. says:

    What a cool way to write a novel!

    I, too, was confused by “pashed.” Maybe it could be expanded upon in the next sentence (whatever that may be) in a way that would allow clueless readers to figure out the meaning from context?

  5. Tiana Smith says:

    I’d never heard of pashed, but could be me. I love the idea of the letters though – it reminds me of the experiment Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer did with Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot (which I loved).

  6. Tricia says:

    I really loved the writing, the voice. I stumbled a bit over the “teenage stuff” but that was it. Love the idea of the chapters journeying through the post.

  7. farawayeyes says:

    I’m intrigued, and completely hooked. I love the idea. It’s so different and refreshing. I will certainly read on.

  8. Mina Burrows says:

    For me, it’s like the start of a beautiful love story. Well done.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Lovely excerpt. I haven’t heard of the word pashed before either, but it’s always fun to learn new slang!

  10. Jessica Bell says:

    I LOVE this! Being Australian myself, “stuff” fits perfectly for me there. It’s a word Aussies use naturally. Good stuff! 😉

  11. If people are interested in reading Jude’s response let me know and I can redirect you or copy it into here.
    Adam Byatt

  12. Susan Oloier says:

    The letters are such a throw-back to the past. I love it because they alone show the passage of time. I am very intrigued to find out what happened to cause them to go their separate ways. I would most definitely read on.

  13. jodicleghorn says:

    Thanks so much for your critique and also to your readers for their comments, insights and feedback. It is greatly appreciated.

  14. I missed weighing in on this one sooner. My only suggestions is naming a couple more items in the “teenage stuff” bin. It might reveal more of who she is by what she had then and chose to save.

  15. SA Larsenッ says:

    Different style and quite intriguing. Love that! I found it interesting that Jess said she loved it, because while reading this piece it totally reminded me of her novel THE BOOK.