Meeting Jandy Nelson at Dept 51, Eason O’Connell Street

I was delighted to get to Jandy Nelson’s event at Eason O’Connell St last weekend. Jandy Nelson is the author of The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You The Sun, two stunning YA novels. I’ll Give You The Sun is narrated by Noah and Jude. The protagonists are twins, and their points of view in the story are separated by a few years. A tragedy in the meantime has created a rift between the formerly close siblings. A book about love, rivalry and creativity, it was one of my favourite reads of this year. The way Nelson writes about art is just incredible, and it was wonderful to hear her speak about her work.

It was a lovely afternoon, beginning with a cups of tea and mini cupcakes. Jandy Nelson was interviewed by David O’Callaghan, children’s and YA buyer for Easons. They began by talking about her writing process. For I’ll Give You The Sun, this was very intense, she wrote in a dark room with a sound machine. It is interesting that such a visual book was written in darkness, but as Nelson said perhaps this enabled her to better visualise Noah’s paintings. The book took three and a half years to write, as she wrote the twins’ stories separately and then began to weave them together.

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I was particularly interested in hearing about her research for I’ll Give You The Sun – which included taking a course in stone carving. She brought some photos with her, including one of her working on her stone carving. She said her works were like Jude’s blobs, but that the course gave her a real insight into the physicality of the work and how the sculpture emerges from the stone. Superstitions also play an important role in the book, as Jude becomes very fearful of life following a tragedy in their family.  Some of the superstitions were in Nelson’s family, some are historical and others are made up. One of the best historical ones used in the book is placing a wasp’s nest on your head to deter an unwanted suitor. As Nelson said at the event, this would certainly be effective! As part of her research for her third book, she has been taking cooking classes something she said she is better at than sculpting!

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As I mentioned above, art is very important in I’ll Give You The Sun. Both Noah and Jude are artists (Noah a painter, Jude a sculptor) and want to go to art school. Nelson is not artistic herself, but said she loved the vicarious experience of being able to create paintings using words. She also said that writing as Noah was very enjoyable, as she got to write very poetically. However, she said there is part of her in both twins, indeed in all of her characters. Nelson’s first book The Sky is Everywhere has poems interspersed in the narrative. My question at the end of the event was about the design of I’ll Give You The Sun. The pages have paint splatters and make interesting use of typography. Nelson said this was not her idea, but she loves it. She also told us there were discussions about whether to have illustrations of Noah’s paintings but in the end it was decided this was best left to the reader’s imagination. Similarly, someone in the audience asked about what happens to the characters after the end of her books and Nelson said this was up to the reader, but that she liked to leave her characters in a good place.

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As well as telling us a little bit about her next book, Nelson also spoke about the plans to make The Sky is Everywhere and I’ll Give You The Sun into films, which is very exciting! It was fantastic to get to meet Jandy Nelson after the event and get my books signed. I was too nervous and excited to say much, but she was really lovely! Thanks to the staff at Easons (especially David O’Callaghan and Jacq Murphy) and of course to Jandy Nelson for a very enjoyable and entertaining event.

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