My letter from Jenny Downham

In 2017 I hired a literary life coach to try to land an agent. One exercise was the “fan letter challenge: send out 10-20 letters and see who responds.”

I had a few replies that I kept in a special email folder, but one stuck out as my favorite.-
Jenny Downham, author of:

which became the movie:

Now Is Good Poster

From: (leaving her email address in since it’s just her fanmail account.)
Dear Mary

Thank you so much for your mail. It is always a real pleasure to hear
that a reader enjoyed a book.

I’m glad that you felt that you could relate to Tessa. It was important
to me that she was an average teen in many ways and that her fear never
became so overwhelming that it prevented her from living. I kept a
diary for her while I was writing, so that she would feel real and every
morning I would start my day by writing the previous day’s entry in her
diary. So – she would go for walks, watch TV, meet her friend Zoey,
etc, and I would write it all down. I thought about what she would
like to eat, what her hopes and fears were, and although it didn’t all
get in the book, it helped me to know who she was.

I spent hours and hours imagining how it might feel to be dying as well
and the one thing I kept coming back to was how concentrated life would
seem – how even the smallest most ordinary thing might seem beautiful.
So although I often felt very sad on Tessa’s behalf, it was also a great
privilege to imagine the world through her eyes.

You say that you particularly related to Cal. I loved writing him. I
wanted him to be the ‘truth teller’ – the one who is able to say how
horrible it is having a sick sister and how he feels as if he never gets
attention, never goes on holiday, etc. He often used to make me laugh
with his ability for ‘straight talking.’

It’s great that you’re writing yourself. I’m very flattered that you
cite me as an inspiration! Of course I’ll read a proof copy if you find
a publisher. Just have them send it to my publisher David Fickling
Books in Oxford (address is on line) and it will be forwarded.

Best of luck with the book and thanks again for taking the time to write
to me.

Very best wishes,


my original message (in case anyone was curious):

On 2017-01-23 17:59, wrote:
> From: Mary Ramsey
> Reply:
> Message:
> Dear Ms Downham
> I am such a huge fan of ‘Before I die’ and the movie version, ‘Now is
> good’. The character of Tessa is brought to life with such intensity.
> From the very start she wants to live, but not just live she wants to
> live out a version of being a teenager that is usually reserved for
> television shows. Even if she’s too weak, she knows that her time in
> her body is coming to an end and as Zoey says ‘There are no
> consequences.’ Tessa is so full of passion; one cannot help but be
> inspired.
> I love your approach to the subject of death, with your focus on not
> only Tessa’s fears but also her impact on the world around her. She’s
> afraid but not enough to have the fear overwhelm her. But all of your
> characters are well written and engaging. I especially love Cal he
> brings a different dynamic as the ‘sick kid sibling’. Usually stories
> with a sick protagonist leave him or her as an only child. Cal’s story
> is as interesting as Tessa’s: how he genuinely loves his sister but
> gets annoyed by his parents since they have to focus on Tessa. (The
> part when he says that he would be ok with her haunting the house made
> me cry.)
> The character of Tessa inspired me to create my main character, Sean.
> I wanted to see if I could take Tessa’s inspirational strength and put
> it in to a sweet, innocent terminally ill male character.
> My novel is about a boy with cystic fibrosis growing up in a small
> Midwestern town. It begins when he’s born and ends with his young
> death, but in between he falls in love, starts a family, and travels
> the world as a model, inspiring the lives of everyone around him.
> Your writing and willingness to put it all out there has taught me how
> to be true to myself. I’ll always be grateful for that, and, if I’m
> every lucky enough to get published, because you’ve been such a
> positive influence for me, I hope you’ll let me send you a review
> copy. Even if you think it’s unlikely you’ll have time to read it or
> review, the simple fact that you might, would have a big impact on me.
> Thank you for your time,
> Mary Ramsey

Just wanted to share,

check out

Jenny Downham on Amazon

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