Jennifer Niven, the New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places is in town at the moment promoting her newest release, Holding up the Universe. I got to hear her chat to Holly Bourne on everything from oddest fan experiences to the upcoming movie when she dropped by Waterstones last week. Holly was also promoting her new book, the finale to The Spinster Club series And a Happy New Year…?, but she was chairing the event and so we got to see her calling the shots and Jennifer in the hot seat.
The questions were brilliant and as with all my event blog posts, I’ll summarise some of my favourite Q&As.
1. Holly started off with some quick fire questions, the first of which, and absolutely the most important question ever: which Hogwarts house is Jennifer in? Jennifer said she’d taken the official Pottermore quiz recently and had been sorted into Ravenclaw at which there was a squeal of delight from Holly, a fellow and enthusiastic Ravenclaw!
2. Second quick fire question: what was the book that was life changing or most memorable for Jennifer growing up? Jennifer immediately answered with Judy Blume’s Forever – she said it was the book that you would hide under your bed so your mum wouldn’t find it. Blume’s books resonated with her because they were about girls similar to her and her friends and they inspired Jennifer to want to write similarly relatable books when she was older.
3. Final quick fire questions: who is your book boyfriend? Jennifer couldn’t resist answering with Finch (and who could blame her or disagree?!), but she did say if she had to choose a character that wasn’t hers she would choose Simon from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
4. Now down to the serious questions, in Holding up the Universe, the male protagonist, Jack, suffers from Prosopagnosia, or “face blindness” – what made Jennifer choose to focus on that? Jennifer said she has two family members diagnosed with it and had been aware of it and fascinated by it for some time. Once she asked one of her cousins how he overcame it and he said he recognises people by “the things that count” – the things they like about a person rather than physical attributes and Jennifer thought “wouldn’t that be great? If we could see beyond the way people look when we meet them?” And that was something she wanted to explore.
5. In both All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe, Jennifer writes from a male and female perspective – what was the reason for that? Jennifer said she likes knowing what the boy thinks – in romance stories, you often have the girl painting a swoony portrait of their crush and you always wonder what is going through the boy’s head. She’d never written in dual narration before All the Bright Places, but found she really liked it and so did the same with Holding up the Universe. Jennifer shared that her editor casually mentioned that she didn’t always have to write in dual narrative which was her way of saying “don’t do it for her current book” so her current manuscript is single PoV!
6. One thing Holly said she’d noticed was the theme of grief present in Jennifer’s books – was that consciously or unconsciously done? Jennifer answered that she’s unfortunately lost a lot of people close to her, including her mother who was always the first to read her completed manuscripts, so grief is a big part of her life. She said rather than carry around the baggage, she finds channeling it into her writing helps – after all if she’s going to be sad and cry about things, her readers sure as her are too. 🙂
Holly said she’d been lucky in that she hadn’t experienced much grief in her life but one event that did stick with her was the death of her hamster. She arranged a back yard funeral complete with Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On blasting on the boombox (aww!) What she mistook as her parents’ profound grief and shuddering tears was actually them trying to keep from laughing out loud!
7. A question we’ve probably all been curious about: does Jennifer often get asked about the ending to AtBP? Jennifer said she gets so many questions about the ending to AtBP, often is accused of breaking hearts (“It’s OK I didn’t need my heart anyway”) and regularly asked for a happier ending. SO… she has now actually written an alternate ending! Holly said she liked the ending and thought it was fitting because it shared the very honest message that love cannot fix mental health (agreed!)
8. What have been some of Jennifer’s strangest fan experiences? The strangest presents she’s been given related to her books were All the Bright Places themed flip-flops! She was also wearing a gorgeous ring, given to her by a fan who I actually met at the event (OhPandaEyes btw in case you were wondering – check her out on Etsy)! Jennifer also said that as her love for Supernatural and Jared Padalecki is well-known she gets lots of themed goodies made by fans and tagged in posts to the guys. She went to Supernatural con recently and finally met JP who thought she looked familiar – Jennifer said she was thinking “yup, probably because my fans tag you in millions of tweets to me”. 🙂
Holly chipped in and shared that her love for Keanu Reeves is also well-known amongst her fans. When KR was recently in London her Twitter blew up with notifications telling her about it. Now she knows that if her Twitter notifications go through the roof it’s not because she’s won some award but because KR is doing something interesting!
9. Time for a controversial question: UK YA vs US YA? Holly asked this question because she basically wanted Jennifer to repeat her comments on this topic made in the green room before they emerged for the event (haha!) Jennifer admitted she prefers UK YA, notwithstanding some of her favourite American YA authors like David Levithan and Jandy Nelson, over US YA. She said she finds the latter to be increasingly self-conscious and a bit restrictive whereas UK YA is much braver and has more freedom.
10. Holly finished up by asking a question we were all dying for answers to: can Jennifer share any gossip about the upcoming movie adaptation of All the Bright Places? Jennifer apologised and said she couldn’t say much but that she had submitted the latest draft of the screenplay a week ago and that there’s probably one more draft remaining before it’s the version that will be used for actually shooting the movie! Elle Fanning has been attached to the project for two years and Jennifer said they are starting to look into casting Finch – apparently a shortlist of mostly British guys (eek!) and ran them past Elle whose first opinion was always very professional (commenting on their great acting abilities) and only then would the teenage girl kick in (commenting on how cute the actors were) which is just adorable!
Have you read either All the Bright Places or Holding up the Universe? Any casting choices in mind for Finch? What did you think of her answers? Let me know in the comments below!