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The First Times Talks Event of 2015: Jodi Picoult Chats to Michele Magwood About Her New Book at Kingsmead College

Launch: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

 
“I’m going to make you fall in love with elephants.”

These were the opening words of best-selling American author Jodi Picoult at Kingsmead College in Johannesburg on Thursday, 22 January. She was in South Africa to chat about her latest novel, Leaving Time.

Picoult kicked off the first Times Talks event of 2015 with a riveting conversation with Michele Magwood about elephants, ghosts and psychics.

Leaving TimeSing You HomeHouse RulesMy Sister's Keeper

 
Picoult told the audience that Leaving Time was inspired by her own children leaving the nest. She decided to write a book about parenting, love and loss and used the fact that elephant mothers and daughters never leave one another as the starting point for the narrative. She started the event by reading an excerpt from the book.

Launch: Leaving Time by Jodi PicoultPicoult spent some time in Botswana doing research about elephants and found out that the adage “an elephant never forgets” is really true. “Elephants won’t leave sick or injured herd members behind,” she said. “They do something only humans do, which is called cross-species empathy.” In her research Picoult came across instances where elephants would break into research facilities and reclaim the bones of their dead relatives to bury them.

The conversation also turned to nature conservation and elephant poaching. “38 000 elephants a year are being killed right now across Africa and at this rate research has said that in 10 years you will have no wild elephants in this country,” Picoult said. “Poaching needs to be seen as an international concern, not just in South Africa but across borders too.” She explained that gender disparity tips researchers off that large-scale poaching is taking place, as males are captured first, because of their larger tusks. When they are all gone the matriarch, who is the main custodian of the herd’s knowledge, falls prey to poachers. This spells the end of the entire social structure of the herd.”

Launch: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult“It’s a Jodi Picoult novel,” Magwood said. “It will have you tearing and cheering at the same time.” She also probed the visiting author about the other main strand in the book, which relates to the psychic world and the paranormal.

Leaving Time is told from three perspectives: Alice the elephant researcher, her daughter Jenna and Serenity the disgraced psychic. Serenity was one of Picoult’s all time favourite characters to write. Jenna employs her to find her mother, who has been missing for some time. Serenity believes that she used to have “the gift”, but now she is what she calls a “swamp witch”, someone who does cold readings and makes judgements based on appearance. “She’s actually not telling you anything, she’s waiting for you to fill in all the blanks.”

“Your books are so moving, do you make yourself cry?” Magwood asked. “All the time,” Picoult replied. “You spend a week with my characters, I spend nine months with them. That’s how long it takes me to write a book.”

Jodi Picoult SelfieMagwood asked if Picoult has ever considered writing something entirely different, like erotica, upon which the packed Kingsmead auditorium erupted in laughter. “I’ve been writing for 25 years and no one’s ever asked me that question!” Picoult said.

During the question and answer session one audience member asked about the creative rights authors have when their books are made into films and how she felt when Hollywood completely changed the ending of My Sister’s Keeper. The crowd murmured in agreement and Picoult explained that writers have no say in Hollywood. When she found out the director changed the ending she warned him that her fans wouldn’t be happy and that the movie would lose money. She was proved right and consequently has more creative control over her projects.

Another member of the audience shared her personal experience of raising an autistic child and said that she always keeps a copy of House Rules close to her.

The end of the evening brought on a long queue of eager Picoult fans with copies of her book at hand, ready to take selfies with their favourite author.

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Books LIVE (@BooksLIVESA), Ben Williams (@benrwms), Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer), Jennifer Platt (@Jenniferdplatt), Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) and audience members live tweeted from the event using the hashtag #TimesTalks:


 

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