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An evening with Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

It’s safe to say I am a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. Her writing style appears effortless, but that is the trick of a master: to move a plot at entertaining speed while still capturing those compelling intricacies found in small moments. What’s more, her subject choices are always gritty and compelling, and her characters complex and real. So it was a real thrill to be in the audience last night when Jodi and her daughter Samantha visited Perth to talk about their new book.

Between the Lines was conceived by Samantha, who had the idea of a fairytale character with a life beyond the book’s pages, and a lonesome teenage girl who wishes this prince was real. Both Jodi and Samantha read excerpts from the book, and talked about what a great time they had writing it together – spending eight hours a day working on it line by line, speaking the story out loud to one another, and aiming for a certain number of pages a session.

In the Q&A afterwards, Jodi named Second Glance as the favourite of her books (because she had a great time researching it, and felt she nailed its complexity). Samantha spoke of her disconcertion as she watched readers devour their book in a few days, after she and Jodi had spent three years working on it. (I remember a similar feeling when Come Back to Me came out – I couldn’t believe people could move on so fast when I’d been absorbed in the story for such a long time!) And Jodi gave her verdict on writer’s block as a writer having too much time on their hands. Just write, she urged. You can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.

I love this photo! It looks like I just ran in with a cheesy grin while Jodi and Samantha were having their picture taken.

Afterwards it was well worth waiting in the very long line to get my battered old copy of My Sister’s Keeper signed by Jodi, and my brand-new copy of Between the Lines signed by Samantha. Most of all, it was a real buzz to be able to say to Jodi directly, in the few brief moments I was in front of her, that she has been a true inspiration to me. Reading a Picoult book always re-energises me, and makes me aim higher in my own work.

NB: The first book I read by Jodi Picoult was, like many others, My Sister’s Keeper. It was fascinating to find out what she thought of the film, particularly the different ending. I found a blog link where Jodi answers a similar question, and you can read it here: http://filmvsbook.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/jodi-picoult-on-my-sisters-keeper.html

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Welcome to the blog, ANITA HEISS!

Dr Anita Heiss

It’s great to be involved in Aussie Author month, and what better way to begin than by having a brilliant Aussie author visiting my blog. Anita Heiss is an inspiration  – her books are fabulous, her work rate incredible, and  her gratefulness blog perfectly reflects her positive take on life. Her energy is at whirlwind level, as I discovered first of all at Perth Writers Festival, where I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her. I’ll always remember how supportive she was to this first-time author.

Anita’s latest book, Paris Dreaming, has just been released. Here’s a teaser:

Libby is on a man-fast: no more romance, no more cheating men, no more heartbreak. After all, she has her three best girlfriends and two cats to keep her company at night and her high-powered job at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra to occupy her day – isn’t that enough? But when fate takes Libby to work in Paris at the Musée du Quai Branly, she’s suddenly thrown out of her comfort zone and into a city full of culture, fashion and love. Surrounded by thousands of attentive men, nude poets, flirtatious baristas and smooth-tongued lotharios, romance has suddenly become a lot more tempting. On top of it all, there’s a chauvinist colleague at the Musée who challenges Libby’s professional ability and diplomatic skills. Then there’s Libby’s new friend Sorina, a young Roma gypsy, desperate to escape deportation. Libby must protect her work record and her friend, but can she protect herself from a broken heart?

I asked Anita what Libby was most grateful for in life, and here’s what she said:

1. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: Libby is grateful for her circle of friends she calls her ‘tiddas’. In Canberra her bestie is Lauren, a visual arts curator who believes in romantic love. Her ex flat-mate Denise is a primary school teacher, who’s witnessed both Libby and Lauren’s relationship sagas over the years, and yet she still believes in ‘the One’. And the latest addition to the posse, Caro, is a lawyer with a dry sense of humour who likes to wet-her-whistle often. Together they unpack the serious issues of life: relationships, careers and good food! When Libby moves to Paris, her new tidda is Canelle, a sleek-bobbed black woman from Guadeloupe with a passion for bling, who ups the fashion-and-fella-anti!

2. A COMPLETE LIFE: Libby has her core group of friends and an active Canberra social life. She has a healthy long-distance relationship with her mum and five brothers in Moree. She’s got a tertiary degree and has excelled in her job as Manager of Educational Programs at the National Aboriginal Gallery in Canberra. Libby isn’t that interested in children just yet, but loves her two cats – Bonnie and Clyde. She’s fit from running and riding her bike around the streets of Braddon, on a total man-fast and is grateful for her complete life, until…

3. PITCH FOR PARIS: Libby is grateful her Pitch For Paris – to work at the stunning Musée du Quai Branly – is successful. She gets to do what she loves best: promoting Indigenous arts, this time on the international stage. But once arriving in the city of love with its cravats, culture and classy men, the ‘man-fast’ isn’t that easy to stick to. But she’s grateful that at least she’s a long way from home… and so no-one will ever know what she gets up to, or will they?

4. NUDE POETS: Libby is grateful to a new friend, Ames from Burgundy, because he introduces her to the revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre. But the most revolutionary thing about their English and French poetry readings is that they are all done in the nude. Libby says: ‘I liked the feeling of freedom in being without clothes just for the sake of it.’

5. MOULIN ROUGE: Libby goes to the Moulin Rouge with staff from a job she ends up doing through the Australian Embassy. While she gets a tad jealous of the barely covered dancing girls, she’s grateful she won’t have to do any can-can moves to impress her fella. She simply says she can’t can’t and won’t won’t.

To find out more about Anita, visit www.anitaheiss.com and http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/ I’d highly recommend going to one of her events – you’re guaranteed a fun evening.

Thanks for dropping by, Anita, and wishing you every success. xx

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GUEST BLOG: NATASHA LESTER, author of What is Left Over, After

Why does inspiration never strike at a time when I can write it down?

I blame my children for this – they’ll end up blaming me for almost everything when they’re older so I might as well get in first. Except that, in this case, it’s true.

 Having recently had the luxury of nearly a whole week to do nothing but write, courtesy of my lovely husband who subjected himself full time to the 3 cherubs, I have discovered that I get the best ideas in the most uninspiring places. Places where there are no pens. And even if there were, it would be impossible to write anything down.

 The first day inspiration struck in the shower. I was washing my face and the solution to a major plot problem that had been niggling me for months suddenly and perfectly appeared. Short of inscribing myself with shampoo, there was no way to make a note of the idea. But I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it later. So I had to chant it in my head – Dan gets run over, Dan gets run over – while I jumped out and dried myself. My mental monologue was interspersed with shouted directions at the children: ‘Your headband’s in the doll’s cradle’ – Dan gets run over – ‘Your shoes are in the fridge’ (don’t ask) – Dan gets run over. I’m just lucky that, when I got to my study, I didn’t end up writing in my notebook: Dan runs over a doll with the fridge.

The next day we were at the Disney Live concert surrounded by a million mini Cinderellas and my two year old needed to go to the toilet. While I was holding her on the toilet seat, more inspiration struck. This time a brilliant plot twist that I knew would make the book impossible to put down at the critical halfway mark. ‘Please hurry, darling,’ I begged, desperate to get out of there and back to my notebook and pen. ‘But Mummy,’ she piped up, ‘I shouldn’t rush. I need to get it all out.’ Of course my oft-repeated advice, which was never remembered if she was in the middle of jumping on the trampoline, was thrown back at me the one time when rushing would have been very welcome.

 The day after that, the ideas came while I was driving on the freeway. No way to jot things down at one hundred kilometres an hour and I’m sure it wasn’t quite the emergency that the stopping lanes were designed to accommodate.

 Later, I realised that the reason I keep finding inspiration in unlikely places is because they are quiet places, places where the kids are either absent or silent – shower, toilet, car.

 I wonder whether this means that the ideas are there all the time but I just don’t hear them, drowned out as they are by the four year old yelling at the two year old, ‘She took my Barbie,’ and the baby delighting in his new found ability to shout Mum-mum-mum at the top of his voice.

 So my New Year’s Resolution is this: to somehow build a quiet moment into every day. The girls received a cubbyhouse for Christmas so perhaps I need to rig up some kind of lock on it – not to lock them in but as a place for me to hide! I know I won’t be lucky enough to dream up a new story idea, solve a plot problem or come up with an unexpected twist in every quiet moment, but the important thing is, I’ll be ready, pen and paper in hand, if the ideas do choose to come.

Natasha Lester lives in Western Australia and is the author of What is Left Over, After, winner of the TAG Hungerford Prize, published in 2010 by Fremantle Press. Check out her website, www.natashalester.com.au, or visit her blog, While the Kids are Sleeping.

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Sources of inspiration

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a question I am asked regularly. And my answer is ‘everywhere’. Considering my profession is writing, I spend much more of my time thinking about what I might write rather than actually noting it down. I am a compulsive thinker – not just that, but I like to replay, analyse, deconstruct, reconstruct, rewind and fast-forward. Occasionally I might even add a soundtrack. I find it difficult to switch off the whirring of my brain, though I have trained myself to get better at it, and my thoughts are widespread and random. I wonder what the cat is thinking on its morning prowl around the back garden. I wonder who made all the things in my house, which hands these objects passed through, and how curious it is that through them I am connected in some small way to hundreds of other stories I won’t ever know. I wonder who first thought of putting vinegar on a potato chip, or chilli in chocolate, and whether they received the recognition they deserved. These thoughts and others zip through my head all day long, and when I’m building a story, occasionally something will linger for a moment, and I’ll connect it to a character, and it eventually becomes part of my book. That’s if I can stop my thoughts long enough to find a pen and write them down. I often seem to have my best eureka moments just before I fall asleep, which is an endless source of frustration. I’m either constantly switching the light on and off to make notes, or trying to repeat ideas like mantras so I might remember them in the morning (which I rarely do).

I can’t ever imagine running out of inspiration, because I can’t see that I’ll ever run out of these streams of questions. And somewhere within my fascination with them, and the possible answers to them, is the place where a story begins to form.

Pages

My Contribution To Other Blogs

I am sometimes lucky enough to be allowed to write on other people’s sites or blogs. You can check out some of my previous posts by following the links below:

On Writing (10 August 2011) on The Australian Bookshelf

Writer on Tour (14 April 2011) on Adventures of an Intrepid Reader

The literary/commercial fiction divide (14 Feb 2011) on Natasha Lester’s blog http://whilethekidsaresleeping.wordpress.com/

A shifting landscape, a perfect backdrop (13 Feb 2011) on www.lisaheidke.com

Inspiration (9 Feb 2011) on The Random Blog

Mothering and writing for a living (8 Feb 2011) on http://anjwritesabout.com/

Endings: Beginnings in disguise (4 Feb 2011) on The Random Blog

Stories within stories (3 Feb 2011) on The Random Blog

Losing the plot (2 Feb 2011) on The Random Blog

The North Yorkshire moors, the perfect setting (1 Feb 2011) on The Random Blog

At long last, meet Grace (31 Jan 2011) on The Random Blog

On writing and editing (31 Jan 2011) on http://www.ahthepossibilities.com/

Sara Foster is grateful for… (31  Jan 2011) on http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com/

Breathing Life into Landscapes (4 Nov 2010) on www.fleurmcdonald.com

On pursuing publication (9 April 2010) on The Random Blog

Finding the time to write (8 April 2010) on The Random Blog

Friends and family readers (7 April 2010) on The Random Blog

Your editor is on your side (6 April 2010) on The Random Blog

When characters get minds of their own (5 April 2010) on The Random Blog