Postmarked: Piper’s Reach is the ambitious project of first time collaborators Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt. Born as an idea of Jodi’s to tell a story through the amalgamation of old and new forms, and fleshed out through a frenzy of text messages with Adam, Postmarked: Piper’s Reach is a story told like no other;
In December 1992, Ella-Louise Wilson boarded a Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soul mate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healer. When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?
On this first pit-stop of the Piper’s blog tour, Jodi and Adam* kindly stopped by to share a little about how the project got going.
*who may or may not be wearing pants.
You’ve chosen to write Postmarked: Piper’s Reach via a handwritten conversation between your two main characters, Jude and Ella-Louise. In such a technologically saturated era as this, I wonder was it the challenge or rather a sense of nostalgia that enticed you to write a fictional serial composed entirely of letters?
JC: Nostalgia first… challenge second. I wrote to Adam just the other day that all my hopes, thoughts and fears were committed to ink and sent elsewhere for safe keeping as a teenager. It feels like that here too… though I am just a cipher.
AB: I was intrigued by the nostalgia and the challenge. As a young lad, I was a prolific letter writer. A friend once joked she could create an inspirational desk calendar from my writing. I enjoyed the mechanical and physical act of writing, spending time to commit words to paper for someone specific. So it was certainly a sense of nostalgia for me. I miss the handwritten form in this technological age.
The epistolary form is not a new one, so therefore not a challenge as such. The challenge lies in other areas of the project.
JC: The challenge lies in keeping authentic to the letter form (to emulate it as best we can) while marrying it to the needs of serialised fiction – introducing hooks and such to keep the reader wanting to read.
What came first? The story of the form?
JC: The concept – which defined the form.
When I first pitched the idea to Adam I had only the bare bones of a concept – a very pared down version of what I first thought up at the end of 2009. Adam fleshed it out immediately with a few well thought out questions.
AB: Coming in blind to a concept someone has had forming in their mind for some time can be daunting. I think I grasped the idea quickly and by throwing in a few ideas, a couple of questions to clarify, all was good.
JC: With a few basic ideas for place and a tiny bit of back story… bang – my character arrived, with all her luggage in tow. She’s been slowly unpacking since then.
AB: I was attracted to exploring the relationship of two characters reconnecting from a distance of twenty years while sorting through the carousel of emotional baggage, hoping to have picked up the correct suitcase. You don’t want to find a suitcase of lady’s underware. Or maybe you do. –It always ends up with underware, doesn’t it? –Jodi
AB: The form grew from the initial pitch and discussion. The story is organic and fluid, and the form facilitates the story. Looking back at the notes I took from the texts we sent back and forth, it was almost simultaneous.
This is the first Jodi & Adam collaboration – one which you both had great fun in keeping secret for so long – have there been any challenges in working on an, at times, intimate narrative (nudge nudge, wink wink) especially when control over the story and its direction, is split in two?
JC: The key word here for me is ‘secret’… it literally (–really literally? *smirk*–Adam) killed me to not be able to talk to anyone about this. I spend a lot of my time, before and during writing, talking about my characters, especially if it’s an ongoing project. So the only person I could legitimately talk to about this was Adam, but we have a No Spoilers policy on the project so I couldn’t even if I wanted. I had to sit (alone) with my character’s meltdowns, the anxiety and the uncertainty… and still do. It is a difficult place to sit at times.
AB: I can keep a secret… I like not knowing. It puts a pause on wanting a narrative to develop in a certain direction, so it plays out like two real people exploring their past, present and future. They do not know where they fit in relation to one another. They are hesitant to reveal themselves. This is true for our characters as it is for us as authors: the more we reveal, the more we hide.
JC: I’m a little less amiable on the topic of frustration and the unknown. I’d like to know I have some ability to swing the narrative arc in any one direction. True I could swing it, but it would probably swing back and slap me in the face. Hard.
It didn’t bother me at first, but with the intensity amping up between Ella-Louise and Jude recently, I’ve been haunted (which is code for ‘can’t sleep at night because of it’) by all the possibilities. I know stuff about Ella-Louise that Adam doesn’t (–and she won’t tell me –Adam), and visa versa (because he’s as tight-lipped as me), so I’m not even sure if what I know will have a home later on.
AB: I am quite happy with the lack of narrative arc to follow. It may have been the excitement of getting the project going, but I think unconsciously, we knew our characters were reconnecting so there was no endpoint to put forward as the climax.
With a constantly evolving story arc and, I’m sure, the enjoyment behind receiving an actual letter every few weeks, what has been your favourite leg of the journey to date?
JC: receiving the very first letter was my real moment of joy on this crazy road trip (and I get to re-live it every fortnight or so!). I remember holding it in my hand, too scared to open it, until Adam called me a big girls blouse on Twitter and told me to open it. Reading that first letter was a homecoming… tearing open the envelope, (even though it had someone else’s name on the front), I was simultaneously thirty-something and a teenager. I set out to fall in love with writing again this year, and this project has definitely helped to fulfil that need in me.
AB: Receiving a new letter every couple of weeks is quite thrilling. I’ve had lots of fun imagining Jude in high school; what he wore and what he did, and how he saw the world around him. And there is such an excitement in knowing you are creating a narrative that is simultaneously known and unknown.
What is it about Postmarked: Piper’s Reach that you most hope will appeal to the reader?
AB: Real characters and real situations. And a little bit of naughtiness by our characters. We all have those relationships, especially from high school that cause us to wonder “What if…?” (–there is a definite potency and pull of the sliding doors moments in our lives –Jodi) - it raises the question of how would you react to meeting someone ten, twenty or thirty years later.
I want the handwritten letters to create an immediacy and an understanding of the characters, their personality and their desires.
JC: I hope the handwritten letters appeal most to the reader. From the feedback we’ve had so far, the ability to read the letters, in the manner in which they were originally penned, seems to be the big draw card. When the novelty is over (and they’ve had to decipher both our handwriting), I want them to care about Ella-Louise and Jude. That’s what will bring readers back every Tuesday.
Next stop on the blog tour — Paul Anderson hosts Jodi and Adam to talk about creating and developing an organic narrative.