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A Writer On Writing: Between The Lines

Sally Jenkins tells of a fruitful mother-daughter writing partnership.

Could you co-write a novel with your teenage daughter? That’s what Jodi Picoult http://jodipicoult.com/ did when her daughter Samantha pitched an idea to her for a young adult novel.

The result is Between the Lines. http://jodipicoult.com/between-the-lines-interviews.html It is based on the idea that the characters in a book can live their own lives when the book is closed. When the book is opened they must jump back into their pre-ordained story roles, like actors who appear in the same production night after night. But what happens when a teenage girl falls in love with the illustrations of Prince Oliver in a fairytale book and the prince wants to live a life outside of the story pages?

Jodi and Samantha came to Birmingham Library theatre to talk about the novel and I went along to hear them. Samantha is 16 now and suggested the idea to her mum 3 years ago. They spent a school summer holiday talking about the concept, the following summer writing it, the next summer editing and this summer they are promoting the finished book.

Jodi was the disciplinarian, setting the number of hours per day they would work or the number of pages that must be completed. She also did the typing, just because she’s got quicker fingers. The two of them sat side by side in Jodi’s office and literally spoke the story aloud to each other, often coming out with exactly the same words and ideas – I’m sure this is only possible if you have an extremely good relationship with your teenager!

Despite being only 16, Samantha is a very confident young woman and gave a reading from the novel as if she were a born actress.

The audience at the Birmingham talk included several school parties who asked Samantha for advice on becoming a writer. She urged them to write to a set schedule in order to get it done. Jodi added that taking some sort of writing course was also extremely useful.
Finally, Jodi says there are two skills which are essential to any writer:
• Be able to write on demand
• Be able to self-edit

So, it shouldn’t be too difficult to produce that bestseller if those are the only two things we need to master!


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