Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Impressions - Post Marked: Piper's Reach

It's a new month and that means First Impressions. Today we have something different, an epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents - like letters or diary entries, for example) written by a team of authors (Adam Byatt & Jodi Cleghorn ) who live 12 hours away from one another. This novel was previously published as a web serial at Post Marked: Piper's Reach. My comments will be in purple and you can see what Dianne Salerni had to say over at her blog, In High Spirits.

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. This feels a little formal to me but I'm saying this from an "American" perspective...

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. At this point, I'm intrigued.First we have the name Jude which could be male or female, which leaves us guessing. Then we have this long gap since these two people have seen each other. Why? What's happened in those intervening years and, more importantly, why is this person writing to Jude now? What's prompted this?

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. Oh wow. So what happened that Jude didn't show?

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) (Ooh, why not?!)
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. I assume 'pashed' is akin to snogged?

This is an interesting beginning. I don't think I've ever read an adult epistolary novel and I'm curious to see where this goes. This first page/first letter tells me quite a bit. Like the fact that Jude and whoever is writing the letter were probably once lovers, that they were close but that for some reason Jude didn't come to see our narrator off, and that Piper's Reach has some shared meaning for them. What's great about this first page is that it sets up lots of questions about the past between these two people but also suggests a question about the future. Why is the narrator writing to Jude now, twenty years later?I want to know what happens next!

What did you think? Do have any suggestions on how to make this first page better?


  1. That simple letter says a lot. The authors nailed so much in just a few paragraphs.

  2. Dear Marcy,

    many thanks for hosting us as part of First Impressions.

    "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.

    It was a lot of fun to hand write each letter, send it through the post and wait for the sound of the postie. After we read it, we deconstructed it over skype or facebook. We had a "No Spoiler" policy, which meant the narrative developed organically.

    If readers are interested, Jude's corresponding letter answers some of the questions raised by Ella-Louise's opening letter but it also raises more questions than it answers. If people are interested Jude has a different 'voice' to Ella-Louise, with his own perspective on their life.

    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:

    Again, many thanks for having us.
    Adam Byatt

  3. I always wanted to read an epistolary novel!

  4. Great letter/opening. I'd keep reading to find out answers to the questions raised.

  5. My interest is piqued. I instantly had an earworm of the Beatles song playing in my mind.

  6. I love all of the little hooks and mysteries you managed to get in just one short letter. I was worried you were going to answer all of my questions too fast, but you didn't - you held back and gave me a taste of an answer and then more questions, which is perfect. Great start :)

  7. I read a book based around letters before and loved it. This one really intrigues me! Thanks for sharing.

  8. There's no middle ground with epistolary writing. It either hits or misses. This one hits! I liked the rater formal British opening--I know a Brit who refuses to send emails so could understand why the written form -- and Jude so added to the mystery of what was ahead. Great job!

  9. Excellent! I'm hooked and would definitely read more.

  10. I really liked this opening. It's different and definitely hooks you.

  11. Oh my goodness. I can't wait to read this book. I've been following Jodi and Adam's endeavor online, and I have to say, I can't wait to get this in my hands. Such a great first page!

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

  13. It's definitely an interesting premise. I guess though, I feel like it feels a little forced to have it all in a letter, just because BACKSTORY... if they were both there... I mean I think the story sounds good, but there would have to be very little of THAT going forward. (I say this as a person who was a SERIOUS pen pal for years).

    1. Hart - I'm interested to know if it feels forced in just this letter or the idea of an entire novel told through letters?

      Backstory is an interesting point to tackle. We've done it throughout the opening of the series/novel as a point of shared contact after a very long time of not having each other in their lives. While they both might have been 'there' - the shared experience is often different and as the letter progress the two of them get to deconstruct these memories/events to find out what was really going on for each of them at the time. It is both a salve and a safety blanket. A chance to finally come clean. To purge even.

      Also one of the characters is stuck in the past and unable to move on (in a way) so backstory plays multiple roles other than just allowing the reader to see into the past of these two characters.

  14. I'm completely hooked. I love epistolary novels. Most of the ones around are in diary form, but Lady Susan by Jane Austen is in letters. If anyone is interested, there is a list on Goodreads:

    1. Thanks for the list Patchi. I have been wondering about the other novels written this way.

  15. Thanks Marcy for taking the time to critique the first page and thank you to all your readers for their comments, feedback and insights.

    It has been a great opportunity to expose Piper's Reach to a brand new group of people and see how it fairs. It's definitely feed the engines that will fuel the rest of the editing process.

  16. I love the idea of a story told through exchanged letters, and this one is off to a terrific start. I would definitely keep reading.

  17. I love the idea of a story told through exchanged letters, and this one is off to a terrific start. I would definitely keep reading.

  18. I like the idea of a novel of letters. Even more, I love how you both wrote letters to make it evolve organically. There could be a danger of having letters feel like backstory since it's all told in reflection, but you strike a nice balance here.


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