MORE than 400 fans packed into the town hall in Cleckheaton to hear best-selling author Jodi Picoult talking about her new book.
The American writer was in town as part of the international promotional tour for Sing You Home which follows the story of a gay couple and their desire to have a family.
Never one to shy away from controversial issues, Jodi told the audience that she was more proud of her latest work than any of her previous novels.
The book follows the lives of Zoe and her husband Max, whose marriage is broken by their ill-fated attempts to have children.
While she throws herself into her job, Max finds solace in alcohol and their relationship falls apart.
Through her work as a music therapist she meets school marriage guidance counsellor Vanessa and they are drawn into a gay relationship and explore the possibility of becoming parents, using embryos frozen when Zoe and Max were trying to have a family.
In the meantime Max is helped through his alcoholism by a far-right evangelical Christian group — but his new-found beliefs bring him into conflict with Zoe’s new life choice and her desire for a family using their embryos.
Jodi said that while researching and writing the book, her own teenage son had revealed that he was gay.
“I have to say that it wasn’t a surprise to me, I kind of knew he was from about the age of five,” she said.
“But if you know my son — and all the things he does and has achieved — his sexual orientation is the least interesting thing about him. However I then realised that the book wasn’t just a theoretical journey for me, I realised I didn’t want him to have to jump through the hoops that so many gay people have to, particularly in America which, unfortunately, isn’t as progressive towards gay rights as you are in the UK.
“I honestly believe it was the right book to write, we need to have this conversation about gay rights and we need to have it now.
“I’m getting so many letters from gay couples saying this book is reflecting their life; one said it had made her shake because it was so close to her life. And the mother of a gay man thanked me because until reading it she hadn’t realised how difficult it had been for him.
“I have written about some very controversial subjects in my books — the death penalty, stem cell research, school shootings, religion — but this one about gay rights seems to be the one that’s getting some people’s knickers in a twist.
“Most Christians are very supportive of gay rights — and I certainly don’t bash Christianity in this book — but there are some far-right evangelical elements who are not and some can’t read the book because they can’t get past the subject matter.
“As a writer I don’t try to preach, it’s the reader’s job to listen to all sides of the story and so I have to present them.”
Jodi, who meticulously researches her books, said she wrote her first story at the age of five.
“I didn’t expect to be a writer, but it doesn’t surprise me that I am because I just love writing,” she said.
“I would still be writing even if no-one read my books. I pinch myself all the time, because I can’t believe that not only do I get published, but people want to read what I write.”
Sing You Home is accompanied by a CD of original music ‘by’ Zoe reflecting the experiences she goes through.
The music was written by Jodi’s friend Ellen Wilber, who is accompanying her on the tour, and who sang some of the songs during the evening.