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.

 

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.

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!!

NaNoWriMo: Day four.

So today is the 4th November, meaning day four of NaNo. I’ve posted my word count on twitter and on my personal Facebook page each day, it helps to keep me motivated to reach my word count I find.

So, how has NaNo been so far? Well, day one started well, although I felt the reality of having done pretty much no prep and how aimlessly I was writing. I wondered whether the very vague book idea in my head would actually be enough to fill a book.

Day two was not so good. I had had very little sleep the night before, damn insomnia. This made writing difficult, and I didn’t meet the writing target of 1667 words a day. I have to admit that I felt deflated and somewhat defeated. I also felt incredibly stressed, there is a lot going on in my life and I couldn’t help but question whether I was expecting too much of myself by adding NaNo to the mix. But I talked about it to some friends and came to the conclusion that I had to put myself first and if it was too much then I would stop NaNo.

So, did I quit? Well no, of course not. I mean who quits NaNo on day two? So day three I started to write, and write and write. I enjoyed what I wrote, and I enjoyed pretty much everything about it, especially when I realised that I had just over two thousand words. It felt good, so good, and maybe just maybe, I was going to do this.

Today is day four and once again I have done just over two thousand words. Two thousand seems to be my limit though, it is like something switches off when I get to it that number and I can write no more. I would like to do more, of course, I want to be able to have days without writing and I cannot do that if I get stuck at two thousand words.

But I have written 7615 words of a book. A book that didn’t exist five days ago. I should add here for those that read my previous NaNo post that the 1000 words that I had done got deleted on day one!.

Today I got sent a survey to fill in, the survey was for readers and authors, and for the first time ever I ticked author (their criteria was that if you have written or are writing a book then you are considered an author), it felt strange. I never imagined that I would actually do this, but here I am, doing it. Will I make the NaNo target and finish it? Who knows. I certainly hope so but it is very early days yet. All I know is that I’m giving it my best shot.

NaNoWriMo: What I’m going to be doing in November.

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I don’t normally do rambling posts on here, meaning posts that aren’t about something specific, like a book review or blog tour. But today I am.

I wanted to share with you all what I will be doing in November, and why, all going well, this blog might be a bit quieter than normal.

Apparently, approximately 80% of people want to write a book. That’s an awful lot. Now generally I like the fact that I tend to be a bit different to the norm, I have rarely in my life conformed to be considered normal or common but in this instance I am. Yes, I want to write a book.

Now I have very little faith that this is something that I will actually manage to do, there are many reasons for this including a lack of time and my inability to see things through. I tend to get bored and lack motivation for anything that I don’t have to do. But I’m going to give it a go.

Normally this isn’t something that I would tell anyone about, then no one has to know about my failure. But I am doing something called NaNoWriMo in November, and author Elizabeth Haynes (who wrote the amazingly brilliant Into the Darkest Corner, among others) who is a pro at NaNo told me that I should tell everyone. Her reasoning being that when you ask me how my book is going that the shame of telling you that I haven’t written anything will spur me into keeping going and finishing NaNo. So no pressure folks, but I’m relying on you to shame me here!

So what is NaNo I hear you say? It is National Novel Writing Month, it happens every November and thousands around the world take part in it. The aim is to write 50,000 words in the month of November to be crowned a NaNo winner.

Now if that sounds easy to you then I’m afraid that you are wrong. Google ‘How hard is NaNoWriMo’ and you will get a lot of hits telling you just how hard it is, I quite like this article (apologies for linking to The Torygraph).

So far I have written an amazing (yes, that is sarcasm) 1000 words. Doing so has taken me approximately four hours. So if I need to write 1667 words every single day during November you can see that this might be a bit of a problem. My problem is that I keep going back and tweaking what I have written. I need to stop doing that. One of my favourite authors, Angela Marsons, told me that if I keep stopping and going back to tweak then the story can’t move forward cos I’m busy going backward (she explained it a lot better than I did!). That makes a lot of sense but I suspect will be a hard one for me to crack.

Another potential problem is that according to NaNo I am what is known as a ‘pantser’. A pantser is someone who doesn’t plan, have an outline, or much preparation at all before starting NaNo. I decided in September that I was going to do NaNo, and I started off planning. I then changed my mind on what book I was going to write, so all that go scrapped. And since then I have done pretty much nothing. I have a vague idea of how my book will end, I have a basic outline of the main character but I just cannot settle on her name, and that’s it. Not a jot else. I have a strong feeling that I’m going to regret that in a couple of weeks time!!

So that’s what I hope to be doing in November. As I said I have very little faith that I will finish NaNo, but even if I don’t and end up with say 10,000 words, that’s 9,000 more than I have now! So if you ask me how NaNo is going and I mumble a response about it going slowly then please gently encourage. If I proudly tell you that it’s going well then please celebrate with me and if I tell you that I’ve quit then please don’t judge me.