Sasha Wasley talks about her love for writing traditional letters and also shares an extract from her new book Dear Banjo.

I’ve been thinking lately about how special letters are. My book, Dear Banjo, features quite a few letters (and I encourage you to flick through a copy to look at the beautiful formatting Penguin did for the letters in the book!). My heroine, Willow, had a major bust up with her best friend Tom when they finished high school and it’s been ten years since she saw him or spoke to him. Tom attempted to make contact, sending Willow twelve letters across her first year of university, before giving up in the face of her refusal to reply.

Willow managed to get through the first two letters from Tom, but it was too painful for her to read any more and she started pushing them to the bottom of her top drawer, promising herself to read them ‘later.’ Later never came, and now she is returning to her home town for good, taking up permanent residence next door to Tom’s station once again, she has to find the courage to read them at last.

I loved writing Tom’s letters. They were the first bit of the book I wrote, in fact. His voice was easy to dive into and when I’d finished the letters, I felt like I knew Tom really well. The letters were a wonderful way to take a snapshot of their relationship as eighteen year olds, and to show their personalities. Tom tends to reminisce in his letters, so the reader sees snippets of Willow’s passion for the environment and humane treatment of animals, her seriousness and intelligence, her drive and competitiveness. But we also see Tom’s humour and sensitivity, and of course, his inner feelings.

In the writing of this book, I discovered that letters are a wonderful way to explore the relationship between the writer and the recipient. There’s something so intimate about reading a letter, especially written in the belief that no one else will ever read it. I expanded on the ‘letters’ theme in Dear Banjo, using text messages, emails and online chat, as well as more letters in the later part of the book, this time from Willow to Tom.

I leave you with a little snippet from one of Tom’s old letters …

Dear Banjo,

Okay, I gave it three weeks. One for the letter to reach Perth, another for you to reply, and the last for it to reach Mount Clair. I’m guessing you’re still not talking to me.

You’re a tough nut to crack when you’re angry. I’ll never for­get that time you got super pissed at me. You know, The Matrix Reloaded night? Aunty Jen had been to Bali and picked up some rip-off DVDs and we’d decided to watch Matrix together. Movie and pizza night. You brought all your animal-free ingredients including that revolting soy-based cardboard masquerading as cheese that you’d discovered. And I sneaked some normal cheese onto your pizza while you weren’t looking and you were raving about how awesome your pizza tasted and you even made me try some so I’d know how much the soy cheese had improved. And I agreed and then once we’d finished I laughed so hard I nearly puked.

When I told you what I’d done I thought you’d see the funny side but instead you accused me of not taking you seriously and stormed out. Remember? You jumped on Rusty and rode home in the dark. Damn, I felt so bad when I realised you weren’t coming back. I wanted to go after you but Mum wouldn’t let me. She phoned your mum to check you made it home all right and told me I needed to apologise. So I did. Text messages, radio calls, phone calls and even let­ters in the hollow boab. But grudgy Banjo took a week before she’d even acknowledge I existed again. I guess it took a week to get the evil dairy out of your system, huh? winks

I hope you enjoy reading Dear Banjo and I’d love to hear what other books containing letters were special to you!

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Somehow she managed to pack up the entire apartment overnight. On the way to the airport the next morning, Willow got the taxi driver to drop in at Tanya’s place. Her friend was still in her pyjamas when Willow gave her the keys to her apartment and a couple of hundred dollars. Tanya tried to refuse the money but Willow pushed it into her hand.

‘No, Tan, I’ve booked professional cleaners and I need you to pay them for me. Keep whatever’s left over as a thanks. And could you possibly go in and get rid of the boxes I’ve left behind? You can have anything from them or just donate it all to charity. And then if you could just drop the keys off to the real estate agent, I’ll be grateful forever.’

Tanya nodded and her eyes went a little glassy. ‘You’re really going, aren’t you? For good, I mean.’

‘Yeah. Going home at last. I can’t believe I stayed in the city this long.’

Tears spilled down Tanya’s cheeks. ‘I’m going to miss you.’

‘Oh, Tan. You should come visit.’ Willow hugged her. ‘I’ll stay in touch.’

‘It’s not the same,’ Tanya sobbed.

‘I’ll call you in a couple of days, okay?’

Tanya nodded and gave her another tearful hug before letting Willow leave.

Jeez, Willow thought as she ran back to the taxi. Shows of emotion had never been her thing. Okay, she was moving a couple of thousand kilometres away, and she’d miss seeing Tanya at work, but surely it wasn’t worth crying over.

A memory of her sessions with a psychologist surfaced. Willow, you tend to hold people at arm’s length. Why don’t you try letting people in a little more? Willow snapped her attention back to the present, logging into the power company’s website on her phone to cancel her account.

She checked in for her flight and paid an exorbitant amount for her excess baggage before watching it glide away on the conveyer belt – the sum total of her adult life in two large suitcases. No, she remembered. 3700 square kilometres, 6500 head of cattle, a ground­breaking, humane, organic beef operation. That would be the sum total of her adult life.

She settled into her seat and thanked the heavens she’d been placed next to a young fly-in-fly-out type, probably contracted to the Herne River catchment project. He was already plugged into his tablet and watching a show involving zombies, so she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone during the flight. She wanted to write a to-do list. As soon as they were in the air she reached into her bag for a note­pad and her hand met something unfamiliar. Not her notepad.

Tom’s letters.

Willow considered them, her heart rate bumping up all over again. Wouldn’t it almost be an invasion of Tom’s privacy to read them now, so long after he’d intended her to? Maybe those sleeping dogs should just be left to lie?

Yes, she would bin them all – drop them into the roving rubbish bag the next time the steward came around.

But she would be living next door to the Forrests again once she got home. By now, Tom would soon be taking over Quintilla, just as she was about to do with Paterson Downs. Their families were as close as ever. She’d need to resume some kind of relationship with Tom Forrest, no matter how difficult the initial patching up phase would be.

Maybe she could use this three-hour flight from Perth to Mount Clair to read all of Tom’s letters at last. She hadn’t even given the poor guy a chance after looking at the first couple. She’d been so absorbed in her own pain; grappling with the panic she felt every time she thought about what he’d done. Perhaps there had been an apology in one of those letters – an apology she should have acknowledged by now. A retraction of that awful moment when he’d said those words . . .

Tom’s handwriting was scrawled across the front of the topmost envelope – always familiar, no matter how long it had been. Willow took a shaky breath. Seven-thirty in the morning was a little early for a stiff drink, so she requested a coffee and pulled out the first two letters; the ones she’d opened and read ten years earlier.

Dear Banjo,

Happy New Year. I guess you’re settled in at the student hall by now. You sure went early. The other kids who got in aren’t leaving until February. I don’t know where you’re staying so I asked Beth to send this on to you. You might have heard I’m probably not going to take up my offer of a place at uni. I’m thinking I’ll defer my course – for now, anyway. Dad’s not fazed. He won’t have to hire extra help this way, not to mention the savings on the tuition fees. Mum’s not overly happy but I keep telling her it’s only for the year. She asks a lot of questions. Not really sure what else to say to you, Banjo. It’s weird without you. Whenever I’m on the quad I turn towards Patersons before I remember you’re not there any more. I keep thinking I’ll see you at the eastern gate, sitting on Rusty, ready for a fenceline race. You knew I’d always beat you but you’d have a go anyway. So, yep. Really weird. You’ve always just been there. I guess it doesn’t quite compute yet. Take care of yourself in the big city, okay?


P.S. We should probably try to sort this mess out.

They were best friends who were never meant to fall in love – but for one of them, it was already way too late.

Willow ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Tom Forrest were raised on neighbouring cattle stations in the heart of the Kimberley. As young adults, sharing the same life dreams, something came between them that Willow cannot forget. Now ten years have passed since she’s even spoken to Tom.

When her father falls ill, Willow is called home to take over the running of the family property, Paterson Downs. Her vision for a sustainable, organic cattle station is proving hard to achieve. She needs Tom’s help, but is it too late, and all too complicated, to make amends?

Tom’s heartfelt, decade-old letters remain unopened and unmentioned between them, and Willow must find the courage to finally read them. Their tattered pages reveal a love story like no other – and one you’ll never forget.

Dear Banjo is a wildly romantic and utterly captivating story about first love and second chances from an exciting new Australian author.

Sasha Wasley was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. She has completed a PhD in cultural theory and loves nature, Jane Austen and puns. Sasha is a farming wannabe, with a passion for animals and the land. Sasha lives and writes in the Swan Valley wine region with her partner and two daughters, surrounded by dogs, cats and chickens.

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