Posted Monday 29 October 2018
Award-winning author Gail Honeyman captivated hundreds of students, staff and bookworms from across the borough community talking about her debut novel, and Sunday Times bestseller, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' when visiting Kingston University for a special event as part of its Big Read initiative.
The crowd, which featured Kingston Deputy Mayor Olivia Boult, was given the opportunity to put questions to Honeyman, who also delighted fans by staying behind for nearly an hour after the event to sign copies of the book. Associate Professor Dr Alison Baverstock, who heads up the Big Read project and also jointly set up the at the University, hosted the event pulling together some key themes in conversation with the writer before opening up the floor to questions from a packed out lecture theatre, with a number of students also watching via live video link from across campus.
Honeyman, who wrote the book over two and a half years, spoke of her love of fiction by women, and about women, and how she drew inspiration for the novel from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. She also explained how she built up a picture of the characters from strangers she observed around her native Glasgow. "I would see someone wearing a ring on a bus and think that is the type of ring Eleanor would wear and those are the sort of traits Raymond would have", she said, referring to two of the book's leading characters.
The novel, which is being turned into a film by actor Reese Witherspoon's media company Hello Sunshine, is the Big Read's fourth title and is written from the perspective of protagonist Eleanor Oliphant, touching upon themes of loneliness, friendship and the important effect small acts of kindness can have.
Inspired by similar shared reading schemes across the United States, Kingston was the first higher education institution to initiate a Big Read project on a university-wide scale in the UK. The scheme has now been rolled out to other British universities including the University of the West of Scotland, Edge Hill University and University of Wolverhampton, as well further afield – all in collaboration with Kingston.
Named Widening Participation Initiative of the Year by Times Higher Education in 2017, the initiative helps new students settle into campus life and creates a sense of community by giving them the chance to read the same book before they arrive. All new undergraduate and postgraduate students receive a special edition copy through their letterbox.
The author, whose book has been translated into 47 different languages, praised the scheme for connecting students who are going into a new environment. "Coming to university is a big transition point in life. It can be quite intimidating so anything that helps break the ice and gives new students something in common with your fellow students is wonderful and I couldn't be more delighted my book has been chosen to help do that."
Dr Baverstock said the scheme had a huge impact on student life at the start of each academic year. "Honeyman was articulate, considerate and empathetic as well being incredibly engaging and down to earth. Being able to use a bestseller is a significant thing for our Big Read project, it really shows it has come of age and it was fantastic to see so many people in the audience had read and loved the book."
Study Abroad student Emma Lay, who is completing a semester in British Politics, loved the book. "I'm a huge bookworm but this book has by far been the best first-person narrative novel I have ever read. It's amazing", the 20-year-old, from Las Vegas, said.
Fellow Study Abroad undergraduate student Celeste Russell, 20, from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, was impressed with how the book balanced serious issues with humour. "I read this book after coming to England and thoroughly enjoyed the way it covered very serious subject matter while also shedding light on some very humorous light-hearted moments", she said.