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Hot Mail
Hot Mail,

HOT MAIL by Tessa Duder and William Taylor

This book began when I chanced upon Longer Letter Later by the American writers Paula Danziger and Ann E Martin, and began to think of how a similar format could work for myself and William Taylor, using the increasingly popular medium of e-mails.

Two obvious differences would be that the characters would be male and female, and that they would not be two best friends wrenched apart as in the American book, but two young people from completely different backgrounds and situations discovering each other on the Net, as millions of them around the world are apparently doing.

Our publisher at Penguin was enthusiastic, though emphatic that there had to be three stories going on simultaneously over a period of time - their individual stories and the story of their developing trust and friendship - rather than simply a single story of friendship. (Two recent New Zealand adult novels in e-mails have been poorly reviewed because of their insistence in making them 'love stories', with little attention paid to their daily on-going lives.)

Writing the book took about three months and was a most pleasurable experience for us both (unlike, apparently, Danziger and Martin, whose notes at the back of the book indicated that the writing had not been without its difficulties and even put their friendship at risk).

William Taylor's one condition was that we write it, naturally, on e-mails, but not discuss the story beforehand. So we discovered our characters' backgrounds and problems bit by bit, as in real life; receiving a new email became quite a feature of our daily lives during that period.

After the first draft was completed, some editorial tightening-up was required, and some checking by a nautical adviser who had in fact done a cruise very like Jess's, and had made his logs, diaries and letters available to me.

We have both read extracts in schools in Australia and New Zealand and been delighted by the students' spontaneous and positive response. Most reviews in both countries have been enthusiastic, but predictably a few have found the occasional bad language and the e-mail vernacular rather too 'un-literary,' occasionally 'tiring to read,' even 'offensive.' To many of these people, the presence of even one mild swear word is one too many! Yet we were to a degree, stuck with it - to have had two teenagers e-mailing in 'good English', even the English of essays or letters written for schools assignments, would have been totally unreal. Dan's voice, particularly, is probably the first time that the written vernacular of a young New Zealand male has been portrayed with such accuracy. William Taylor was a teacher of eight to 13-year-olds for many years and continues to visit schools, as well as meet his son's friends.

It has been pleasing that the book continues to sell well in New Zealand and unexpectedly well in Australia, where their own young adult genre is a highly developed, even crowded, market.

We see this as a book which underneath its humour and rough vernacular is actually quite a poignant story of two lonely young people making the best of their unusual situations, for good 11-year-old readers and up.

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Spirit of Youth
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Last updated 25/10/14 ©2014 Tessa Duder.