My YA novel, Letters to Leonardo was inspired by the works of Leonardo da Vinci. The more I worked on it, the more I became inspired by Leonardo’s art and the meaning behind it. The more I became fascinated with Leonardo the man.

A number of people who had read the novel even asked me if I was an artist. I’m not; just someone who appreciates and is inspired by art.

In Letters to Leonardo, 15 year old Matt Hudson gets a letter from the mother he thought was dead.  On the front of the card is a picture painted by Matt’s mum called Uluru at Dusk.

It was a figment of my imagination and the painting doesn’t actually exist. But I couldn’t help wishing that it did.

If only I could paint.

I have dabbled in pastels a bit, and the opportunity came up recently to take classes. Ambitious I know, but my first class, I thought I’m going to attempt Uluru at Dusk. So here it is.

I conclude that writing and art are a bit like the chicken and the egg – and I don’t think it matters which one comes first.

Art inspired me to write Letters to Leonardo and writing about an imaginary picture inspired me to go out and create it.

Happy writing and creating.



If you’ve read my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo, you’ll have discovered that I have a long-held fascination with the amazing and talented Leonardo da Vinci.

In Letters to Leonardo, my main character Matt writes to the long dead painter as a way of making sense of what’s happening in his own life. He relates events and people to Leonardo’s paintings.

Dear Leonardo,

…they never fooled you with their lies did they, Leo? You just have to look at your paintings to know, “There’s someone who sees right to the heart of everything.”

So, as you can see, my interest in Leonardo da Vinci probably falls under the ‘obsession’ category.

Which is why I was dismayed to hear that ‘they’ are planning to exhume his body so they can study his skull to determine whether the Mona Lisa is based on Leonardo himself or his mother.

Now I’m no scientist, but wouldn’t his mother’s skull be a similar shape to his?

So, what will all this really show us?

That some people will go to any lengths to ‘prove’ something.

As a writer, I can understand this quest for discovery. As a person, I cringe at the thought.

I say,”Leave Leonardo in peace”.



letterstoleonardolrgSeeing as it’s Cyber Launch day, Matt Hudson has decided to put in an appearance. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, but he said he has a few questions for me, and he doesn’t mind if I share his questions and my answers with you. Matt wanted to talk about how Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings have been used in Letters to Leonardo.

MATT:       Why did you think that Leonardo da Vinci would be a good person to help me tell my story?


DEE:          Even though you two lived over 500 years apart, Leonardo was a lot like you, Matt.

MATT:       How?

DEE:          You both got taken away from your Mum’s at a young age, you both seek truth, you’re both sensitive – and you’re both perfectionists.

MATT:       I guess you’re right. Anything else?

DEE:          Your art – it was a strong connection between the two of you – and it linked you to your mother as well.

MATT:       You used Leonardo’s paintings a lot throughout the book. Why do you think people will want to know about them? Not everyone is an LDV fan like us?

DEE:         The paintings were a great way to symbolise people and events in the story. Take the Mona Lisa for example – she was an enigma, just like your mum.

MATT:       And that painting of St Jerome – you used that to show how I was feeling?

DEE:         That’s right – sometimes the emotion of the painting was a good way to show what was going on with you – without have to say “Matt’s upset” or “Matt feels bad”.

MATT:       Why did you have to tell everyone how much I loved LDV’s stuff? Why do you think it was their business anyway?

DEE:         Readers needed to understand the sort of person that you were – so they could empathise with you. Like when you talked about the Drapery Study and you said, “We all wear an outer layer to hide who we really are,” that was to help people realise how vulnerable you were.

MATT:       How does LDV connect us – you and me, I mean?

DEE:          He’s our shared obsession:-)



letterstoleonardolrg1.       How long did it take to write Letters to Leonardo?

More than ten years.

2.       How many words have you put on paper from first draft to published novel?

Over 1 million.

3.       How many hours have you spent writing & rewriting Letters to Leonardo?


Around 1800 – that’s an average of about 180 hours per year.

4.       How many times has the ending changed?

At least 7

5.       Was the book always called Letters to Leonardo?

It started out as Letters to Leonardo, then during my mentorship, was changed to To the Moon and Back, and eventually Space. When I went back to writing the original story (refer article about The Writing Process on Robyn Opie’s Blog http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com), it became Letters to Leonardo again.


Here’s the Letters to Leonardo Movie Book Preview for you to enjoy. Just click on this link.


 Here’s how we made it:

Making the Letters to Leonardo Movie Book Preview was literally ‘fun for the whole family’. My eldest son, Sam is the voice of Matt Hudson, and 10yo Nicholas is the musician – who arranged and played all the music.

We learned a lot along the way. These were the steps we followed:

  1. Look at what your story is about. We also thought about who we were making the movie preview for – who was going to watch our preview – who was going to read the book?
  2. Decide how much of the story you are going to tell in your Movie Book Preview. It needs to be just enough to intrigue viewers, but not too much – or people won’t bother reading the book. From an interest point of view, and after viewing previews at http://blazingtrailers.com we decided we didn’t want our Movie Book preview to be any longer than 2 minutes.
  3. Next step was to write the script. You need a script so that your preview works like a story with high points and low points and things to interest people. Having started out my writing life as a playwright, I found that writing the script was lots of fun.
  4. One of the hardest parts was executing the script – bringing it to life – making it happen.
  5. Clip Art and Walker Books provided most of the pics so the visual part wasn’t too hard. We just had to work out the order of things, when to fade in and out – and how to use special effects like sepia tones.
  6. Making the writing ‘crawl’ across the pictures was time consuming but not difficult. It just involved having the same pic and having different slides and on each slide, we added more words. Each slide was saved as a JPEG file and when we put them all together it worked like an animation.
  7. The hardest part of making the movie book preview was doing the sound. Sam was happy to be Matt Hudson and Nicholas was happy to arrange and play all the music. The hard part was getting the recorded sound to a reasonable quality. If you want to avoid using sound engineers or recording studios, it’s best to keep the sound part simple and just use free downloaded music – but we didn’t discover this till too late.
  8. Having chosen to use voiceovers and our own music, we were forced to employ a sound engineer to get reasonable quality sound. (Finding someone with the same last name was pure coincidence.)
  9. Now that we had our script, our pics and our sound recordings, all that remained was to put it all together. We did this using Windows Movie Maker which was very straight forward and involved slotting the right bits into the right places on the timeline.
  10. Next we saved our movie, uploaded it to www.blazingtrailers.com and our work was done.




A FREE SNEAK PEEK at “Letters to Leonardo”

Walker Books Australia has been fantastically supportive with our blog tour and Cyber Launch and as a special treat, they’ve allowed us to upload Chapter 1 of Letters to Leonardo, so that you can read it.

Here’s the Sneak Peek first chapter: 


LtoL Chapter 1 - page 7

LtoL Chapter 1 - page 8

LtoL Chapter 1 - page 9

LtoL Chapter 1 - page 10


LtoL Chapter 1 - page 11


LtoL Chapter 1 - page 12


Extract from Letters to Leonardo

by Dee White

Available in bookshops July, 2009

ISBN: 9781921150883

Publisher: Walker Books Australia


Copyright © Dee White, 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Matt and I hope you enjoyed Chapter 1. If you’d like to keep reading, you can buy the book at any good bookstore or online at:






Happy reading!

Dee and Matt:-)



Thanks so much for those kind words, Sue. I have just loved working with you.

Finally, the big day is here – Letters to Leonardo is being released into both the real world and the cyber world TODAY, July 1st 2009 – RIGHT NOW!

So it’s with great pleasure that I introduce you to Margaret Hamilton, who has made this day even more special by agreeing to Cyber Launch my book, Letters to Leonardo.

I was thrilled when Margaret agreed to launch my book because she has played such an important role in setting it on the road to publication. Margaret was the expert assigned to assess my manuscript at the 2008 SCBWI conference in Sydney. She read my manuscript and told me it was good enough to be published. She gave me the confidence to believe in my work, take the risk, and dare to show it to the publishing world.

Thanks Margaret:-)

Margaret Hamilton pic

Being invited to do a ‘cyber launch’ of a book brings me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century! I’ve never been known to knock back a challenge, so here I am looking another one in the face.

I’ve met Dee White only once – at the SCBWI conference in Sydney. I had been asked to do a program of half-hour publishing consultations and was allotted a very pleasant corner on the rooftop of the Hughenden, sitting in the sun on some comfortable outdoor furniture. Thank goodness it was warm and sunny and not minus four degrees as it is in Blackheath today as I write this!

 Half an hour is not long to talk to an author about their work but I quickly became intrigued by Dee’s story. From the snippets that I read I was able to see that she can write – convincingly, smoothly, with feeling. I was a little concerned that her story of a teenage boy with serious issues to deal with – so serious that he couldn’t face them head on, he had to write to a dead artist to ease the burden – might be bleak, sad and lacking a hopeful resolution. Books about teenagers have often been too serious, too bleak and have been criticised for their ‘dirty realism’ and lack of direction. Throughout my publishing career I resolved never to publish a book that did not offer the characters a way out of their predicament, however serious it was. Everybody must find someone to talk to.

So I asked Dee to tell me the rest of the story and I listened intently to her passionate retelling. By the time she had finished I knew that here was an authentic character, a believable teenage boy who would be readily recognisable to young readers. I identified with him and his family, just from Dee’s short retelling, so I knew instinctively that here was a serious publishing possibility. Matt’s story is told with an authentic voice, a real insight into his world and the issues he is fighting to come to terms with. It doesn’t shy away from the seriousness of his situation, neither does it sugar coat them. It’s realistic, gritty and life affirming. So I urged her to send it to publishers (suggesting a shortlist of some I knew).

The rest is now history, because Walker Books Australia snapped up the book and I received an excited email from Dee telling me that it was going to be published. And here it is. Nothing is so satisfying to an author (or indeed a publisher, as I have never tired of it) than opening a parcel and finding finished copies of a book you’ve sweated over, lost sleep over, had panic attacks about. You hug it, turn it over and look at the back, at the front again, smell it, flip through the pages and hug it again!

But the work is not yet finished. The promotion and selling of a new author’s book is hard work. I feel confident that Letters to Leonardo will find many readers, will be well reviewed and will lead to other books from Dee White. As a first book, this is an impressive debut and she should be very proud and encouraged to write more.

So I am excited and honoured to be asked to launch Letters to Leonardo (cyber or not!). As she begins her journey as a published writer on the sea of readers, I wish Dee smooth sailing and many more successes to come.

Margaret Hamilton AM

Thanks so much Margaret for your very kind words and for findng time in your hectic schedule to launch my book. Even though we’ve only met once, I was wondering if you were in my lounge room when I opened the parcel with my book inside – when I hugged it, turned it over and look ed at the back, at the front again, smelled it, flipped through the pages and hugged it again

After spending more than ten years writing “Letters to Leonardo”, it’s hard to believe that today it goes on bookshelves in stores all over the country – today my book is not just piles of paper stuck away in a filing cabinet drawer – it is a real book available for readers to buy and enjoy.

So as we continue the Cyber Launch, it’s time to fill up your glass with cyber bubbles and cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com where you’ll find out where the ideas and characters for Letters to Leonardo came from – and obstacles on the road to publication.

See you there at 10.15 (oz time)  – oops, that’s now! Gotta fly. Catch up with you at Robyn’s place.



j0384809Right from the start, every single person at Walker Books Australia (our publishers) has been fantastic – friendly, helpful, enthusiastic – so great to work with.

But there’s one person who we worked really closely with over the last twelve months – Senior Editor – and all round patient, kind and wonderful person, Sue Whiting.

Sue helped Matt to discover his voice – and Dee find out that she used some words far too many times – especially the word, ‘weird’ – weird huh?

We are so delighted to have Sue here today to talk about Letters to Leonardo and the journey we have all taken together.

And on this special occasion, Sue has swapped her editor’s hat for a party hat. Over to you, Sue.


I first heard of Letters to Leonardo by chance. I was sitting opposite Dee at the SCBWI conference dinner at the Hughenden Hotel in Sydney. She was excitedly talking to the person beside her about the manuscript. The title was intriguing. Dee’s enthusiasm was palpable. Curious to know more, I asked Dee to tell me about it. I was so fascinated by the concept behind the manuscript, that before we even received our entrées, I had invited her to submit it to Walker Books. And when a number of weeks later, I finally sat down to read it, I was not disappointed. Far from it.

Congratulations, Dee. Letters to Leonardo is a wonderful debut YA novel and you should be enormously proud of yourself. You have worked so hard, not only in the last twelve months or so as you slogged through the various rounds of edits, but over the many long years prior that you toiled over and persisted with the manuscript. Your efforts have certainly paid off.

Letters to Leonardo is a unique tale, beautifully written. It’s poignant. It’s compelling. It packs a powerful punch. It will take readers on an emotive journey and it is impossible not to be moved by the experience.

I wish you and Letters to Leonardo every success, Dee.

Sue Whiting

Senior Editor

Walker Books Australia



Matt and I had such a blast at Sally Murphy’s place http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com.

Tomorrow, we’re off down south to Spinning Pearls where we’re going to be answering some really curly questions. You’ll find us at http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com

Hope to see you there.

Dee and Matt:-)



I can’t believe it’s that time already – Matt can’t believe it either.

Tomorrow, we hop on our Cyber Plane and jet off to visit Sally Murphy in WA. We’re going to be talking to Sally about how to promote your story online (like at blog tours and things).

It’s going to be a fun-filled fortnight of interviews, chats, launches, interactive reading and writing activities and all sorts of fun stuff related to the creation and writing of Letters to Leonardo.

Here’s where we’re going:

24th June 2009             http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com        
Dee and Matt talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.
25th June 2009             http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com     
Author interview
26th June 2009             http://thebookchook.blogspot.com    
How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo – with some teaching activities included.
27th June 2009             http://belka37.blogspot.com
The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo           
28th June 2009             http://weloveya.wordpress.com
Guest blogger – talking with Vanessa Barneveld – interactive discussion about dreams and writing

29th June 2009             http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale            
An author interview on the writing process – covering things like inspiration and perspective
30th June 2009             http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com
Use of mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book
1st July 2009                 Cyber launch https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com including cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com – hurdles overcome on the way to publication.
2nd July 2009                http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com
How the author’s life paralleled Matt’s – her growing obsession with Leonardo da Vinci
3rd July  2009                 http://bjcullen.blogspot.com
Working with a publisher and the editing process
4th July  2009                 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com
Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson at Sandy Fussell’s blog. Sandy is the author of the Samurai Kids series
5th July 2009                   http://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com
Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo – themes in the book
6th July 2009                   http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com
Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written – how the author turned fact into fiction
7th July 2009                    http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com
An overseas stop before heading home – USA blogger Jennifer Brown talks to Dee about bipolar themes in the story and the affect on teenagers of having a family member with a  mental illness.     

Join us tomorrow at http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

Look forward to seeing you there.

Dee and Matt:-)