Last updated: 21 december, 2009 - 17:35 GMT

Email Friends of War and Peace

May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt - together now in the Outlook studio, along with Bee's daughter

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When the distant worlds of a working mum in London and a bullet-dodging academic in Baghdad collided with a single email, something life changing happened.

May Witwit, an Iraqi academic in the heart of Baghdad, and Bee Rowlatt, a BBC World Service journalist living in a safe, quiet part of London, soon became unlikely but firm email friends.

As Iraq descended into turmoil after the US-led invasion, May Witwit feared for her life every time she left her front door.

She lived with "the daily terror of bombs and violence" and survived several assassination attempts.

This could not have been more different from Bee Rowlatt's routine of juggling a busy career and three children in a quiet part of London.

But Bee's life fascinated May.

Amidst the violence and instability, an unlikely email friendship developed between the two women, which crossed borders, cultures and traditions.

It lasted for almost four years and had a life changing effect.

Bee says May's emails were like an "ice cream in the desert."

And Bee gave May sanity amidst the war-torn chaos of her beloved city.

May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt - together now in the Outlook studio, along with Bee's daughter

So when disaster struck the women's lives were brought closer than they could have ever imagined.

Theirs is a dramatic story and one which has now been turned into the forthcoming book, Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad.

Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit spoke to Matthew Bannister and revealed the story of their extraordinary relationship and the details of some of their very special emails.

Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad is published by Penguin in February 2010.

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