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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

My bedside table…

Bedside table Aug 10I like to keep my current reading matter on my bedside table, but although I try very hard to maintain a small, neat pile, sooner or later it always deteriorates into a precarious tower of half-read books. I’ve just taken an inventory and thought I’d share it with you.

On the top is A Mercy by Toni Morrison. I wrote part of my Bachelor of Arts dissertation on Beloved, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire Morrison, but I wouldn’t call her stories easy reads. With this one, the haunting lines that close the first chapter will see me through to the end of the book on their own. Underneath A Mercy is The True Story of Butterfish by Nick Earls, which I’ve only just started, but it’s good and I’m keen to keep going. Next comes a children’s book – The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis – which I’m reading because a) it is set in Yorkshire, England, and b) on the cover is a brilliant but terrifying picture of a black barghest (a black dog that is legendary in the area). Both Yorkshire and the barghest also feature in my upcoming novel, Beneath the Shadows, and I want to see what Jarvis has made of them.

Halfway down the pile is Mandela, which is there because I watched Invictus the other day and wanted to find out more about ‘Madiba’.  And below Mandela are two books a friend lent me: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and The Observations by Jane Harris. Pretty much everyone I know has raved about The Book Thief, while I’d never heard of The Observations. When I’ve finished them, I’ll report back on both.

I always have some kind of inspirational reading by my bed too. At the moment there is an old book called the Handbook for the Soul, edited by Richard Carlson & Benjamin Shield, and a recent book called The Shift by Wayne Dyer (who I saw speak in Perth on Saturday, and who was tremendous). I love these kinds of books as they inspire me and challenge me to keep thinking about things differently. Alongside those I’ve got Karma Kids, because I’m keen to instil some Buddhist values in my daughter at some point, perhaps in a few years’ time when I can slow her down for a few seconds! And I’m also gradually making my way through two Lonely Planet books – a guide to Wildlife Travel Photography, and A Year of Watching Wildlife – because in my dreams of an ideal life I’m often in the middle of nowhere, stalking something with a camera.  

And, finally, last night I added my own Come Back to Me to the pile. The smaller paperback edition will be coming out in February along with Beneath the Shadows, so I thought I’d better refamiliarise myself with my old friends!

And that’s it…! It’s messy, I know, but at least it means I can choose just what I feel like reading on any given night. And I’ll get through them all…as long as they can keep close to the top of the pile. Because I was in New Edition bookshop in Fremantle yesterday, and there were thousands of undiscovered worlds wrapped in shiny covers, all calling out to me…