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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

Happy New Year!

So 2012 has arrived, and it’s already looking like an exciting year. I’m looking forward to:

  • finishing my third book, Shallow Breath, getting it into production and telling everybody about it
  • seeing Beneath the Shadows published in America
  • attending the Perth Writers Festival, being involved in discussions and conducting a session on e-marketing
  • starting a brand-new book!

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2012 filled with great reading.

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Perth Writers Festival #3: Fiction discussion at its finest

To begin with, I was drawn to the writers in the session entitled ‘Reverberations from the past’ more than the topic. Natasha Lester is a friend of mine, whose beautifully crafted book, What is Left Over, After, won the TAG Hungerford in 2009, and I’ve read and heard so much about Gail Jones’ and Jon Bauer’s books that makes me want to pick them up as soon as I can. During the session, all three writers breathed fresh life into the over-analysed theme, and every audience member appeared captivated by their eloquence and their ideas. Gail Jones spoke about how other writers, including Virginia Woolf in ‘Sketches of the Past’ addressed the issue; Natasha Lester told us about the wonder tales of the French court in the 14th century and how she used them in her novel; then Jon Bauer read a piece he had written for the event, which was filled with soundbites, such as ‘The past is not a foreign country, nor is it the past. It is you, now.’ In the following discussion they each spoke of how their own experience had found different routes and resonances in their writing. Jon Bauer had used some personal challenges of his childhood; Gail Jones’ drew on the story her great-grandfather, who committed suicide in a Kalgoorlie hotel; while Natasha recently reached out to others in a creative non-fiction piece about her experiences of her daughter’s hip dysplasia (published in the WA journal Indigo). They all discussed how they looked for the subtle but resonant aspects of experience that might be used in storytelling to convey authentic feeling and reflection to greatest effect, whether representing grief in the landscape or manifesting in a character’s physical appearance.

Finally, Jon Bauer answered one audience member’s question in a way well worth noting. When asked about how to move a piece of writing forward, he said he wanted to respect the fact the writer was lost and struggling, as we all are at times in writing, and therefore he wouldn’t answer the question in order to empower the gentleman to find his own way through. Such an eloquent way of encouraging a writer to keep reaching for their own authentic, unique voice.

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Perth Writers Festival #2: The death of print?

On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.

I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.

One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats.  I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.

I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.

However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.