At a quarter to twelve yesterday we found a small queue of Jodi Picoult fans waiting outside WH Smith at the Trafford Centre. Considering the signing started at one o’clock, I felt they were a little bit early. But just because I’m a bad queuer doesn’t mean everyone else is. The Resident IT Consultant and I went off to buy shoes. He nearly fainted with the shock of it, but when it comes to shoes, I’m boss. In fact, I’m boss when it comes to most things.
Two pairs of shoes and a Lancashire cheese and pickle sandwich later I went back to WHS, with a few minutes to spare before one o’clock. I was slightly surprised to find the queue wasn’t much longer than before. That was until I turned round and found that it also snaked up the circular stairs to the level above, and that actually there were quite a few fans.
Jodi’s PR lady is the lovely Kerry who also travels with Sara Paretsky, and she had asked me if I wanted to come along and meet Jodi, seeing as they were a little closer to me than Nottingham. (Closer yes. Not much faster to travel home from. But that’s the M60 for you.) We seem to synchronise well, Kerry and I, so yet again I found myself standing by the door at much the same time as the star herself. Which was handy, as I was allowed into the enclosure without first going and standing on the stairs.
The waiting press photographer had a go with Jodi, who is pretty and has beautiful long curly hair. And she smiles a lot. I had a go too, seeing as she was posing, though I have to admit that I could have done with my photographer, but she had to be at school. The fans charged ahead in an organised and orderly fashion. Customer number two admitted to Kerry that he had been queueing since 9.30 (and I’d thought 11.45 was bad).
A pattern emerged with female customer buying book and getting it signed and chatting to Jodi, while boyfriend/husband did the camera thing. That was until the baby turned up and posed. Very cute baby. WHS staff processed the over one hundred strong queue very efficiently, and I was most impressed by their post-it notes and book-opener and pointing-the-way person and the capable man who took photos for those who hadn’t brought a photographer (maybe I should have used his services, too?) and generally thought in advance what needed doing.
The left handed Jodi assisted by being the fastest signer in the country, and by being someone who can sign and smile and chat and pat babies and pose for photos, all at the same time. She even said hello to someone’s sister on the phone, and we lost count of how many people’s birthday it was. Jodi now knows where Salford is, and as if her adventure on Scottish television eating brussels sprouts and pickled onions dipped in chocolate wasn’t enough, WHS managers presented her with a bag of jellybabies. They probably found it lying around in the shop, somewhere. At least it can aid Jodi’s culinary advancement.
As the fans got thinner on the ground, Kerry suggested I could start my questions. Needing Jodi to put me out of my misery by sorting out the colours of Jacob’s quilt in House Rules, I began with what might seem like an irrelevant detail;
‘Jacob’s quilt, does it not have orange in it?’
‘Are you sure, because the book mentions all the colours of the rainbow, and it had me very, very worried…’
Jodi laughs, ‘I don’t think his mom would have anything created for him that would set him off.’
‘It just didn’t feel quite right.’
‘It’s people like you who scare me, as a writer, for thinking that way.’
‘Just shows how aspie I am about things.’
‘It is very well to own up a little bit…’
‘The case histories; whose are they, are they Jacob’s or are they yours?’
‘The case histories. Those are real, Jacob’s speaking them. You know that at the very end. The very last one, you realise he’s talking about his own case and he speaks in the first person.’
‘What kind of feedback to the book have you had?’
‘It’s just come out here, the people who have read it here … I’ve had fantastic feedback from America and it was nice that the Autism Society in America, for instance, and people who have kids with autism have written to say, “have you been living in my closet because it’s pretty much what my life is like,” which is really, really great. There have been a couple of people and I mean less than five, who’ve said, “well my son has Asperger’s and does not look like that,” and you know what? That’s true, because every kid is different. Jacob is a compilation of fifty plus kids that I met when I was interviewing them to get research. And I picked and chose little bits of various lives and behaviours to compile one kid. Jacob could look completely different, but I do think that he is an authentic Asperger’s kid.’
‘I think so. Yes, he’s lovely, really.’
‘How long do you spend on research?’
‘It actually depends totally on the book, for instance in this case it was probably about three solid months of research, because I was sending out and receiving questionnaires, plus there was the time I stopped with the CSI. Then I came back in and wrote for about six months.’
‘Have you written your next book yet?’
‘Yes, it’s done.
‘And have you started the one after that?’
‘Yes I have. I’ve started the research for it. I haven’t started the writing yet.’
At this point Kerry says to me ‘you want to stand over there for a picture.’
‘No I don’t…’
‘You know I don’t.
Kerry – ‘Yes I know you don’t, but you will.’
So I do. Crouch down next to Jodi, just like her adoring fans did before me.
‘Now you’re there. For ever and ever,’ Jodi says.
‘How do you think I feel?’
‘That’s all right, you’re used to it!’
The assistant at WHS tells us that before Jodi arrived, the press photographer asked her to sit down at the signing table for a couple of test shots, and ‘I found that really horrible.’
‘It’s really bizarre,’ Jodi says. (And I think she means fame in general and not the adventures of the WHS girl.)
‘Do people come up to you in the street?’
‘Yeah. In fact I was in Times Square and a boy was following me, a teenage boy, and he goes, “I’m sorry, but you look very familiar,” and so my husband – because I would never say – goes “because she’s Jodi Picoult”, and the boy said he had read half of my books, and he was so upset because he didn’t have a phone and he said “I can’t even take a picture.” So we took a picture and emailed it to him. It was great. It was fun.’
More fans turn up with books to be signed, and they mention the film of My Sister’s Keeper, and the way it ended differently from the book. ‘Yes I was aware of it,’ says Jodi. ‘Were you OK with the ending?’ ‘No, I was very angry, and I had very specifically asked the producer to keep the ending, and the director lied to me, said straight to my face “I’m keeping the ending. I will tell you myself if I change it, and I’ll tell you why.” And I found out from a fan who had got the script, and the director to this day will not tell me why he changed the ending. And the movie was not as successful as they wanted, because the demographic viewers, were all people who’d read the book.’
‘I’m glad they asked that question,’ Jodi remarks.
‘You appeal a lot to young adults, but you’re not specifically thinking of them, are you, when you write?’
’I’m probably just thinking of what I need to write, and I think that’s what makes the best book to be honest. If I’m writing what I need and want to write. I love hearing that a kid hasn’t read until they picked up one of my books, and now they love reading. That’s a great wonderful benefit. You know, I love my teenage fans. They are slavishly devoted, and they come to events and they write me emails all the time.’
‘Do your children read your books?’
‘All three of them read my books, yes.’
‘What about fan mail; do you have time for that? Does someone do it for you?’
‘I get two hundred letters or so a day, and I answer and read every single one. I do not have an assistant, and you’ll find fans all over who say “oh my god, she wrote back to me!” and it means an awful lot. I don’t have time to do my laundry, though.’
We laugh at this, because laundry isn’t really all that important when you’re Jodi Picoult. Maybe her husband does the laundry?
‘Well Ann, it was very nice to meet you,’ Jodi says picking up her bag of jellybabies and thanking everyone at WHS before she and Kerry leave to get to Rickmansworth for the evening’s event.
I reckon I could do with some of Jodi’s energy. They could bottle her. The Picoult pick-me-up, or something. With or without chocolate flavour. Without for me.
And you know, I went home and looked in the book again. I think Jodi was wrong about the quilt. It says ROYGBIV. O for orange. So there.
If you want to know what I’m going on about, read House Rules.