Gail Honeyman, the author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, reminded the Kingston community that a good book helps us realise “that we are not alone”.
The Kingston University Big Read is a community reading scheme that is designed to bring people together through a common interest.
Each year, a novel that fulfils a series of criteria is chosen by the Big Read committee.
The chosen book is then gifted to every new student, giving them something to bond over. “Reading is a great way to feel connected and know that we are not alone,” said Honeyman.
This year’s novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is a book that tackles the theme of loneliness. This issue is important and highly relevant because it is not only felt by the elderly but by young adults too.
Loneliness may be a fact of life, but its physical and mental effects can be devastating. However, the book manages to wonderfully counteract this serious topic with humour. “You need to balance the hum and darkness because life is just like that,” said Honeyman.
The first-time Glaswegian author came from humble beginnings and only put pen to paper soon after she turned 40. She cites her 40th birthday as a kind of catalyst: the turning point where she would either tick bungee jumping off her bucket list or write a book. Thankfully, she chose the latter.
When asked what motivated her to keep going, she said: “I wanted to prove to myself that I could write and finish a book”.
Honeyman is a self-proclaimed “pantser” rather than a “plotter”. She described her writing process as being done “by the seat of her pants” and writing in a way that allowed the characters to form on their own, as opposed to the “plotters'” way of carefully organising each chapter.
Her main challenges were not to do with rejection, but rather personal challenges such as self-doubt and confidence. “The biggest obstacles are the voices in your head,” claimed Honeyman.
Honeyman gave some insight into the novel’s main character, Eleanor Oliphant. Heavily influenced by Jane Eyre, Eleanor is described as a prickly character that is at first hard to love, but grows on you as you navigate through the story.
She describes her novel as character-driven, bringing Eleanor to life in a way that allows the reader to foster an emotional connection. “If you connect with a character, you can go anywhere with them, even to the hairdresser,” said Honeyman.
Eleanor is not based on a real person, nor is she autobiographical. Honeyman describes her personality as a product of a lack of nurture rather than nature.
Gail Honeyman left the audience with a few nuggets of wisdom: read aloud to hear what does or doesn’t work, do it for yourself, and it’s never too late to change your career.
Although Honeyman doesn’t plan on writing a sequel, the novel’s film rights have been sold to Reese Witherspoon, giving readers another chance to relive Eleanor’s story.
When asked what actress she would pick to play Eleanor, Honeyman answered, “I know how long her toenails are, but I don’t see her face.”