We were recently invited to meet Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, the mother-daughter duo behind Between the Lines, which we reviewed here. The event was hosted at Chatswood’s Concourse Theatre by Lindfield Bookshop and Constant Reader Bookshop, with Willoughby City Council.
Jodi and Sammy were delightful, and obviously very proud of each other as they appeared on stage. Jodi’s introduction to the novel was enthralling, as she described how Sammy had the original idea of “What if … the characters in a fairy tale had their own lives when the book was closed? And What If … one of them wanted to get out? And What If … a girl reading the story could actually hear the characters talking to her, not just in the story?” And so Between the Lines came into being. For Jodi, when Sammy pitched the idea, she was instantly behind it because who hasn’t, as she put it, had a literary crush? For Jodi, that literary crush was Mr Darcy, and as Sammy said, have you seen Wolverine?
Over two years, Jodi and Sammy co-wrote the novel, speaking each sentence aloud to each other while Jodi did the typing. They edited the novel together and now they are touring together for the launch. As a first novel for Sammy, it is a marvellous piece of work. As a first ever young-adult novel for Jodi, it is a taster of what marvels lie ahead for a whole new generation of readers, who, as Jodi agrees, may not be ready to read her more controversial works just yet. Sammy herself admitted that she has only read 5 of her mother’s back catalogue of novels, but at a mere 16 years of age, this is probably more than most of her peers would have attempted! Her favourite? Handle With Care.
At the Meet the Author event, Jodi and Sammy both read a chapter from the new novel. Jodi took on the voice of Oliver, but not Prince Oliver from the fairytale, instead she read Oliver the 16-year-old boy who wants to get out of the story. Sammy in turn, read as Delilah, the teenager who desperately wants to talk with, and be with, Prince Oliver.
Here are a few of the questions and answers from a group Q&A session that we would like to share with you.
For Jodi – why do you think that the “Once Upon a Time” opening has so much power for us as readers?
Jodi: I guess because it’s a trope. It is a convention that we all know, we all understand, we know there’s good and evil and it will always end in happily ever after. What we thought to do was turn that on its head so that what you see in the fairytale isn’t really what you get.
For Jodi and Sammy – the novel is written from three “voices”. Which part did you each like writing the best, and why?
Sammy: I loved writing the fairytale itself. I really loved the contrast between the fairytale itself and the fairytale characters when the book was closed as well. But it was the excitement of creating the whole fairytale world, everything from scratch that was the best for me. I enjoyed writing the interactions between Oliver and the other characters, both as Prince Oliver and as Oliver-the-teenager. Writing Delilah was not very interesting because she’s a teenaged girl and so am I, that’s my life so why would anyone find that interesting?!
Jodi: I really enjoyed writing the characters in their non-fairytale lives. I enjoyed the contrasts, where the mermaids are boy-crazy in the fairytale but are actually rampant feminists, or where Socks, the charging snorting stallion, actually has complex body issues. It was a lot of fun writing with Sammy – and we wrote the whole thing together, so you can’t even say that we each wrote one voice more than the other, we just did it all together.
For Sammy – When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
Sammy: My first short story was at the age of 7, it was a 40-page story about a duck and a fish who became great friends. Then one day the duck says to the fish, would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow night? And the fish is very excited and replies yes, of course. But over the next day the fish becomes more and more concerned that he is going over to be dinner rather than to have dinner, and so he has to ask his friend the duck this question. The duck finds this very amusing, but promises that the fish would never be dinner and then the duck becomes a vegetarian so the fish need never worry again.
For Jodi – how do you feel about your books being made into films?
Jodi: You’re asking about My Sister’s Keeper, and yes that’s not how I wanted it to end up. I worked closely with the director and he promised that he wouldn’t change the ending. I had very little clout in Hollywood at the time, and when a friend of mine at the studio called me and said they’ve changed the ending, I went to the head of the studio and told him if he didn’t make sure the ending was just like the book that the film would lose them a great deal of money, because the demographic they would be aiming at are my readers, and they want to see the ending like it is in the book! But you know the rest – the ending was not like the book, and the film lost a great deal of money. Now, however, I’m regarded much more highly in Hollywood, because they think I’m psychic!
The next film that might be made is Sing You Home, which is very controversial in America. I receive the most hate mail for that novel. But I always present both sides to a story and I feel that I represented the points of view in that story accurately, as I had spent many hours interviewing people of all opinions.
Between the Lines has also been adapted for screen already and it is currently being pitched to studios, which we are very excited about. We really would love to see how some of the special effects we wrote into the book will appear on the big screen!
For Jodi and Sammy – what was it like writing a book, and doing this tour together?
Sammy: It was great. We had fun working on it together, and we have a great relationship. I have loved being on tour with my mother as well – it’s been two months and it’s still fun!
Jodi: I am mesmerised every time I hear Sammy reading Delilah’s chapter. I couldn’t be more proud of her, and I am so happy to be sharing this with her. We did all the writing and editing as equal partners and this tour together has been fantastic.
What are you reading now?
Sammy: I have just finished reading The Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I really enjoyed it.
Jodi: I am reading a fabulous story called The Age of Miracles.
Any last words?
Jodi: We have put this book out to make you fall in love with print books again. With the illustrations, the different fonts and the silhouettes this book is designed to entrance you. We have no problems with e-books and do have Kindles, but we wanted to return to the magical fairytale worlds illustrated by the likes of Arthur Rackham. Also, this might be a way to make Jodi Picoult more approachable for younger readers, as they don’t have the mental agility to swap between narratives as easily as older readers. This book might help provide the tools for them to do so in future.
You can read our book review here, we gave you a warning and we give you another one, you may find yourself not wanting to put it down!
Available now: Allen & Unwin RRP$24.99
Photo: Adam Bouska