Jodi Picoult: Talking about her latest book, Small Great Things.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go and see Jodi Picoult talk about her latest book, Small Great Things. She is touring the world to spread her message of what she sees as her most important book yet, and the hardest book that she has written.

You can read my review of Small Great Things and it is out now to buy, and I hope that you do buy it, as it is an important book and one that I think people should read.

The timing of the release of Small Great Things is pretty amazing, given that the book focuses on prejudice, something that seems to be so prevalent in the world, with hate crime rising drastically in the UK after the Brexit vote and in the US after Trump won the election there. With France looking like they will also be electing someone who incites hate, perhaps this book is needed now more than ever?

Picoult kicked off by reading the start of the book, introducing the audience (the huge majority of whom wouldn’t have read the book yet) to Ruth, one of three storytellers that take the reader on a journey through Small Great Things. Ruth is a nurse in America, and Ruth is black. Something that two new parents won’t tolerate and so ask that she has no involvement with their care. This causes events to spiral in ways that none dreamed possible, but we follow Ruth as she fights for her job and then her freedom as a result of what happened that day.

When I read Small Great Things I was struck by how much research Picoult had clearly done in order to write the book, her terminology around Ruth’s job was spot on, she obviously knew her stuff. But hearing her talk yesterday about the research that she did totally blew me away.

She was very aware that as a white woman she did not understand what people of colour go through. I say people of colour as that is the term that Picoult uses, it is the current term that is used in America and apparently preferred by many as it includes not just black people but also latinos, Asians and anyone with a skin colour that is not considered white.

So knowing this Picoult set about doing her research. She spent 100 hours with ten black women, talking to them extensively about their lives and their experiences and prejudices that they had encountered in their lives. What she heard shocked her, and she says, changed her forever. Two of these women then read the book as she wrote it to make sure that her terminology was ok and that Ruth’s voice sounded authentic.

Picoult also did a course in Social Justice, she told us that after every lesson she would come out and cry. Her eyes were opened and she felt inspired to write Small Great Things.

The idea for the book came from a newspaper story about a labour and delivery nurse in America who was told that she was not to care for a family who were white supremacists. That nurse went on the sue her hospital for discrimination but Picoult decided to take the story further, in that what if something went wrong with the baby and the black nurse had been the only one present, torn between helping the baby or obeying her orders not to touch it?

In order to complete her research Picoult also met with two ex-white supremacists, to find out about their thinking and their lives. The stories that she told us about what they had told her were shocking and scary, especially given what is happening in the US right now.

When I read Small Great Things I often wondered what black women would think of it, and in fact, I pondered this in my review. So I was pleased to hear Picoult talk about this, she said that the response had been amazingly positive, that she had had fantastic feedback from people of colour. When an audience member asked Picoult what the reaction had been from white supremacists, Picoult smiled and told us that they were not going to be reading her book in the first place. But she had written an article for TIME magazine about her book and had received a number of highly offensive and threatening tweets on Twitter. I have just looked at that article for the first time and it repeats a lot of what I have written here, but no doubt in a far more eloquent way.

Before we went into the hall I got talking to a woman behind me in the queue, she was a black woman and had at the last minute decided to go and listen to Picoult talk. When it was finished we saw each other on the way out and she told me that it had been amazing, she was so pleased that she had gone, that it had been powerful and how, as a nurse in the NHS she felt that she had been passed over for promotions, and had felt that she had been treated differently because of her skin colour many times. This book really is so relevant today in this world. This book needs to be read, now more than ever.

 

Blog Tour: Only The Dead by Malcolm Hollingdrake

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Today on If only I could read faster we have Malcolm Hollingdrake answering some questions about writing including where he does it, what he finds hard and what he reads.

Where do you write?

 I write wherever I can, providing that place is stationary! Trains, planes, boats and cars are out of bounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to but I suffer from acute travel sickness so that’s out. I’ll write anywhere at home but a favourite spot is with my back to a south-facing window at the end of the dining table. Unfortunately, my detritus, research really, tends to be spread alongside me too. In an ideal world, I’d like a room where I can leave everything and just close the door. One day!

Ideas

Ideas come at the most inopportune times. I now use my phone to jot down notes and ideas or make a voice memo. On so many occasions in the past something has come to mind and I have arrogantly said to myself that it’s so important I’ll not forget and then…gone! It was ever thus. Now, next to the bed, I keep a notepad and pencil for when, on rare occasions, I have an awakening Eureka moment.

I have always been a people watcher and this is a wonderful writer’s trait. Noting the way people move, the way they interact and speak can only help create and develop real characters. Sometimes, a chance conversation, a saying or colloquialism will often spark an idea that can be used or developed. The other week, my wife was on the phone and she was put on hold during which time music was played, you know the type, as if it’s played on a Jew’s harp; it was Handel’s Water Music. She turned and said, “This music is making me want to pee!” I nearly wet myself and so it was used in the latest book.

The hard part for me, names!

 Names! Naming characters is the bane of my writing life. If I had a pound for the number of times I’ve ended up with two characters with the same surname in the same novel! Christian names are fine providing you don’t have three in the same book. That can be confusing! Strange, but as I’m writing I’m blind to the errors. It’s only when I sit and read through do I see the mistakes. I’m grateful too for the sharp eyes of the editors who have found the odd faux pas.

I take names from everywhere, directories, and advertising, even the side of vans if they seem appropriate. Occasionally, people will ask to be added to a novel, selecting the character to suit their inner angel or devil! I know authors who have offered this service as a prize. A great idea! Anyone want to be in a novel?

 What do I read?

 Strangely, I try to leave crime fiction alone for fear of either picking up an idea or an author’s style. I like my own. In the past I have enjoyed reading Robert Ryan, his blend of fact and fiction really captivates. Ranulph Fiennes has a similar style and for me he’s a real hero. ‘The Feather Men’ has to be a favourite. The other year I was lucky enough to hear him speak about his experiences, truly staggering achievements. I also love short stories, any collective cornucopia that I can dip into in no particular order appeals; one of my favourite writers has to be Saki. Most of my reads at present tend to be non-fiction, books related to Northern Art and artists. If I were to be honest, my writing takes a good deal of my time and I just love creating a different world! As someone said, I just make it up and write it down!

If I were to take three books to read again on a desert island;

‘Sagittarius Rising’ – Cecil Lewis

‘The Shepherd’ – Frederick Forsyth

‘Nangaparbat Pilgrimage’ (The Lonely Challenge) – Herman Buhl

Thank you so much for coming to visit us, Malcolm!

Malcolm’s book, Only The Dead, is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Book Review: A Mother’s Confession by Kelly Rimmer.

 

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A Mother’s Confession by Kelly Rimmer.

 

My 5* Review:

A Mother’s Confession tells the story of Olivia and her marriage to David. We know that together they had a baby called Zoe, but over the book the truth about their marriage becomes clear.

Ivy, David’s mother, also part narrates the story, telling us about her son who can do no wrong. She devoted her life to her son and became heavily invested in him and his life, wanting to know about and be part of everything. Ivy and Olivia always had a difficult relationship with Ivy struggling with jealousy when David met and fell in love with Olivia.

We know early on that David had a darker side to him, and that he is now dead. But we don’t know what happened that tore Olivia’s world apart. It is clear that Olivia has no desire to interact with her in-laws, but also that her relationship with her own family has been fractured but that since David’s death it has been rebuilt.

Olivia is attempting to move on with her life, she wants to be a good mother for her daughter Zoe and is keen to get back to work as a vet. Living in a small town where everyone seems to know everything about everyone proves challenging for Olivia, but as she gets stronger she starts to move on with her life and to tell us what when so badly wrong between her and David.

I just loved this book, I felt quickly immersed in the story and wanted to keep reading it to find out exactly what had gone on. At times I thought that I had worked it out, but of course, I hadn’t. I loved that the story was told by two mother’s, meaning that the reader was never really sure which mother had a confession to make.

I have read a few books by Kelly Rimmer now and all have been excellent, but I think that this one has to be my favourite. It was wonderfully told and although not always easy to read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you to the publisher Bookouture for a copy of A Mother’s Confession via Netgalley. I was under no obligation to give a review.

A Mother’s Confession by Kelly Rimmer is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

NaNoWriMo: I did it!!!!

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Look what happened!!! I am in shock, I cannot believe it but I also cannot stop smiling. And I’m so relieved that it is over!

Once I hit 40,000 words I actually started to believe that I might actually do this, I had a few difficult writing days, I think that I was in what seems to be known as the ‘soggy middle’ of the book. But once I got to 40K I felt energised and determined, so I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, my daily stats went up, as you can see from the graph above I started to pull more and more in front of the target.

Then yesterday I wrote and I wrote and I did 5,157 words, taking my total to 47,694. It was by far my highest word count for a day and my brain felt fried. I went to collect my children from school but I couldn’t shake the niggle of just how close I was and was I really going to wait until tomorrow to finish it? After a trip to the dentist and the barber on the way home we had dinner and then in the half hour before bedtime for my children they watch television, so I took to my laptop and started to write.

I guess that I was lucky that I happened to be in quite an exciting bit of the book, which made it easier to write. Normally once my children are in bed I struggle to write, I’m tired and want to do something else but there was no way that I was going to leave it there. As I was writing I did wonder how much of what I was writing would be edited as my brain felt too fried so I couldn’t believe that what I was writing made all that much sense.

Once I got to 50,048 words I stopped typing. It just happened to work that I was at the end of a chapter so it was a good ending point anyway. I sat and stared at the word count for a bit and then started the process of getting my words verified on the NaNo website. That took some time and strangely NaNo think that I wrote 50,034 words, so a small discrepancy to what Scrivener was telling me but it still meant that I was a winner.

I had the hugest grin on my face, I had done it, I was a NaNoWriMo 2016 winner AND I’d done it with plenty of time to spare. This is my first ever NaNo and my first ever attempt to write a book.

So what next? Well, my story is definitely not over yet. I am hoping to get it to about 80,000 words that makes a full-length novel, but before I even attempt that I am going to have some time off. On Friday my twins turn six, so I will be able to enjoy that and their weekend of celebrating and then maybe on Monday I will start writing again, I don’t want to lose the flow too much but definitely need a break from it, yesterday felt like a marathon for my brain and it is tired. I also need to concentrate on reading a bit and catching up with my review books as I am so so behind now.

I also want to say how lucky I have been, I have had absolutely amazing support from many places. Firstly I have bored friends with daily word counts on Facebook, my posts have received many likes and comments, giving me support and cheering me on on the more difficult days. I’ve also joined a few Facebook groups or writers, or for those specifically doing NaNo and they have been invaluable too. I am very lucky and I genuinely don’t think that I would have finished NaNo, or at least not finished it this early, without that support.

Blog Tour & Review: Frailty by Besty Reavley.

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I loved The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley, it was an incredibly well-woven story that at times turned my normally strong stomach. So I was excited when I heard that the author had another book coming out and even happier when I was given an ARC of Frailty to read and given the opportunity to be part of the blog tour. So here is my review.

My 5* review:

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to read Frailty, I knew little about it, only that it involved child abduction, a topic that can be hard to read, especially for those of us that are parents ourselves. Was I sure that I really wanted to read it?

Of course I did! I rarely shy away from reading a book about a difficult topic and so with Frailty bumped to the top of my TBR pile I started to read it. I was quickly drawn into the story, it often takes me a while to get into a book but not this one, from the very start I had to know what was going to happen.

When Hope goes missing her parents, Libby and Danny are thrust into a nightmare that they never wanted to be part of. They don’t know who to trust and where to turn as the police seem to keep coming up blank, they have no idea where little Hope could be.

The parents descend further and further into the nightmare, both behaving and thinking things that they had never believed that they would or could think or do. It was heartbreaking to read, and I really felt like I was there with them, powerless to help them.

Periodically we heard from little Hope herself, and those chapters were especially hard to read but were also an essential part of the story.

As her father, Danny struggled with Hope’s disappearance, he felt that as the man of the house is role was to keep his family safe. And at that he had failed, something that felt like a heavy burden to him and eventually forced him into something that clearly showed the reader how he had been destroyed by the disappearance of his eldest daughter. This was the one part of the book that I wasn’t quite sure about, would someone be driven to go so far and to act so out of character?

By the end of the book I felt as though I wasn’t quite breathing normally, I’m sure that I held my breath through a number of chapters while I waited to find out what had really happened to Hope. And although I had a big part of it worked out, that didn’t detract from the story in any way.

The emotions that I felt reading Frailty tell me how well the story was woven and how as a reader I was drawn into the story. After I finished it I thought about the book a lot, another sign that it had got under my skin.

I’m aware that someone reading this review might question why I would want to read a book such as this, and why I think that someone else should too. That is an easy question to answer, I love a book that takes me on a journey and that immerses me into the story, the author does both very well. This really is a special book.

I received a copy of Frailty from the publishers but was under no obligation to review the book. My opinions are my own and have not been affected by this.

Blurb:

How far would you go to protect your family?
Danny and Libby are about to face every parent’s worst nightmare.

When eight-year-old Hope Bird disappears without a trace, from the idyllic village where she lives, life for her family will never be the same again. Her parents know she would never have gone off alone and the police have no idea where she is. Then a child’s shoe is discovered and the case takes an unexpected turn. Soon a suspect is identified but this is only the beginning.

Will they ever find Hope?

Frailty is a haunting, gritty, psychological page-turner about the choices we make. How far would you go to protect your family?
Danny and Libby are about to face every parent’s worst nightmare.

When eight-year-old Hope Bird disappears without a trace, from the idyllic village where she lives, life for her family will never be the same again. Her parents know she would never have gone off alone and the police have no idea where she is. Then a child’s shoe is discovered and the case takes an unexpected turn. Soon a suspect is identified but this is only the beginning.

Will they ever find Hope?

Frailty is a haunting, gritty, psychological page-turner about the choices we make.

 

Frailty is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

NaNoWriMo: Day sixteen.

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So, today is day sixteen on NaNoWriMo, six days since my last update. My wordcount now sits at a staggering 32,562 words.

As you can see from the graph above I am ahead of schedule which is hard to believe, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been ahead of schedule on something before. Seriously, I’m one of those people who normally never gets to the end and if I do it’s a last minute rush to make it. But I’m approximately 5,000 words ahead of target.

It feels good to have that buffer, although I do have a few days coming up where writing will be difficult, if not impossible. But I’m not going to focus on that right now.

There have been no major dramas since my last update, I feel like I’ve settled into a routine with it and although sometimes I feel like I have absolutely no idea where to go next, somehow words come and the story moves on.

Talking of the story I happen to think that it is a load of rubbish, complete drivel in fact. I think that I have far too many frowns in the book, ‘he looked at her and frowned’ ‘she frowned and said….’. I definitely need to look up words that I can use as an alternative to frown!

Another thing that I’ve been struggling with is animal related. It seems that vets are hard to find, and even more so vets that are willing to talk to you about the not so pleasant side of what some people do to their pets. If you’re reading this and are a vet and are willing to help then please get in touch! I promise that it is for my book and not something that I will be putting into practice.

Something elset that I think that I should tell you is that my daughter has been sick. In fact when she vomited my second thought was ‘oh no, how am I going to get my writing done now?’ which was a pretty selfish reaction when my five year old had just thrown up. She was sick twice and then absolutely fine, a little quiet the next day which meant that I actually got a lot of words done but then totally normal today. She’s spent the day telling me that she wished that she was at school and that she missed her twin brother, in fact she seems to have barely stopped talking all day.

In the end I took her to Costco, I wasn’t getting any writing done so figured that we may as well do something productive with our day. After we sat and had a drink and she sat quietly, I told her that she finally had my undivided attention so what did she want to talk to me about. Her response? A small shrug and she sat drinking her drink and for the first time all day, she was quiet. Typical. However, since getting home from school she has happily played with her brother and I have managed to finally get some writing done.

Under 20,000 words to go. I can’t tell you how much I want to get there. Although in general I’m enjoying doing NaNo it is exhausting. Today I promised myself that I wouldn’t do NaNo again, but I have a feeling that NaNo is a bit like childbirth and soon enough I’ll forget the bad bits and want to do it all over again.

Right, back to the writing I go…..

NaNoWriMo: Day ten update.

So the NaNo roller coaster continues! Today is day ten and I am still going. I just read my post that I wrote about day four and I was proudly telling you that I’d written 7515 words. That was not all that long ago and at the end of day ten I have written (drum roll here) 20036 words! Yep, I have done over twenty thousand words!

I actually cannot believe it. I was talking to a friend today who has been really supportive of me doing NaNo and has patiently listened to me vent and given her regular updates of my word count. She told me today that I need to stop saying that I can’t believe it and start believing in myself. I know that she is right, but it isn’t that simple.

I can tell you, though, that I do feel incredibly proud of myself. When I think of myself as a young child at school, battling with dyslexia, struggling to even learn to read let alone write, it is hard to believe that this is where I am now.

But it hasn’t been easy. Days 5-7 were ok, but on day 8 I felt tired, really really tired. Now it’s hard to know the cause of this, I do have dodgy blood and get very anaemic, so maybe it is that and I need an iron infusion (I had bloods taken this week so should know the answer to that soon), or is it because of the writing?

Writing is actually really tiring, well I think so anyway. Not only am I thinking and writing and concentrating, but I’m also using my imagination in ways that I am not used to. I felt like my brain hurt.

I posted about it on a brilliant writer’s Facebook page, there’s a few of us doing NaNo on there supporting each other, and I have to say that I expected a chorus of ‘me too’ when I asked if others felt tired. Instead, I got support and advice, I was told that maybe I needed to step back and take a bit of a break from it. Someone mentioned writer’s burnout, having had burnout from a job I did 15 years ago I certainly don’t want to be heading in that direction again. They told me that I was perhaps pushing myself too hard and to have a day off, then someone suggested that I just write 500 words the next day.

500 words? I have to admit that scared me, being a bit ahead takes pressure off me and to do 500 words in a day would mean that my buffer would be a lot smaller, but I saw their point and I couldn’t ignore their unanimous concern that I needed a break.

So, yesterday I had an easy day. I have to admit that the shock election results in America helped, it made it much easier to stop thinking about my book and characters and what was going to happen next. I felt for the first time since NaNo started that my brain had stopped whirring. I did no writing in the morning, and then after lunch I did an hour and wrote just over 1000 words.

It wasn’t much but it felt enough, doing that much didn’t stress me out but I knew that more would. So I stopped. It was my lowest word count so far, but I was ok with that.

So this morning, day ten, I have to say that I felt better and ready to get back to it. But the words didn’t flow so well and I was worried that my break the day before had broken something and that I was going to find it hard to get back into it. But as time went on I wrote more and more before I thought that I was done for the day. But I was just over a thousand words away from twenty thousand, maybe I could keep going?

And I did, and the words began to flow and soon enough I saw that I had written 3151 words today, that is my best day yet! And I cracked the 20k with a total of 20036.

So right now I’m feeling motivated and good. I desperately want to get to twenty-five thousand as then I will be half way through, and that isn’t too far away. I still have no idea whether I will actually finish NaNo, but I do know that whether I do or not I have given it my best shot. My main worry at the moment is that I don’t have enough story left to tell to give me another thirty thousand words, let alone the additional 30-50 thousand that I’d need to add to it to be left with a book-length book. But I remember on day two thinking that there was no way that I had enough words to get to ten thousand so I’m trying not to stress about that one too much.

So if you’re still here, thanks for reading my update! Words of advice and encouragement are much appreciated!!