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Distinguished Wordsmith
MSaff
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Ms Adams,

Thank you for the opportunity of reading your book. I really enjoyed it, and while my questions aren't all answered, have been able to draw my own conclusions. I like it when an author makes me think. What drew you from documentaries to writing "The Sister"? Have you always wanted to be an author? Thank you for taking the time to join us and answer our many, varied questions.
Mike
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." Dr. Seuss
http://travelswithcarsandbooks.blogspot.com/
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reddoglady
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

I truly enjoyed being able to read an ARC -- the book held my attention and I have the same questions as others so I won't repeat -- I did find the moth/butterfly aspect a little boring, but I guess you had your reasons which I hope you will tell us -- thanks for the opportunity and thanks for sharing your time with us --
Author
Poppy_Adams
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Hello everyone
I have been following your many interesting and insightful comments on The Sister over the last few weeks, and I am looking forward to discussing them with you.
 
Karen, thank you for your leading ideas throughout the threads, I appreciate your understanding of the book.
As for your questions - in my experience the brother-sister relationship is not at all like a sister relationship so, no, my siblings did not help me in that respect.  I have a complicated relationship with my mother, though, which helped, and I have many friends with sisters. 
 
In reply to your question 'is there a correct interpretation of the bell tower incident?', the answer is no.  Or, rather, what I think happened on the bell tower really doesn't matter.  I know I am going to be repeating myself throughout these answers, but I will say now that, having written a book like this, I am not about to start being prescriptive! 
Personally, I wouldn't say I have left questions 'unanswered' as some of you have thought (for that implies an unfinished job); I would say I have left you to answer them - and then, perhaps, to look at your answers and question how our society or your own experiences have led you to them (...how your own biology and/or nurture may have contributed).  One goal of mine in writing this book was to make the reader think, to question the singularity of each of our perceptions (and each of the characters), societies role in our understanding (I will come on to how the U.S audience react differently to the UK one)...  
The Sister can be read on many different levels - as a story only, or to understand other aspects of human nature.  I know it doesn't necessarily follow the 'rules' of some stories, in which every plotline, action and thought is tied up and resolved, but life isn't like that and nor are our perceptions of it.  So I don't want to write books like that. 
So I'd like to repeat this - The Sister is purposefully nonprescriptive, and at times ambiguous, and other people's opinions are equally as valid as mine - and more than that, reflect their experience and society's differing values. 
Having said that, as the author, I need to know what I think happened, otherwise I would be get my characters, themes and plot in all sorts of trouble.  I'm not always going to tell you what I thought though, because it would ruin the overall point of the book.  But on the bell tower issue I'd like to ask you this - what on earth made you think Ginny pushed her sister off?  I can't think why you might have thought this... (I'm asking slightly tongue-in-cheek of course)  Is it just because she's an introvert? or that she is at a complete loss herself as to why her own mother might think it?  So she doesn't stamp her feet and yell at her mother?  No, she's not like that and she's just seen her sister have an horrific accident.  Maud says 'tell me the truth', Ginny says 'I'd already told her how she'd tried to catch her toast etc...' What more can she say?  Some people would have reacted differently, obviously.  But we're not all born like that.  Many of you, like Maud, assumed she'd definitely pushed her sister off that tower.  How will that affect a girl if her mother always jumps to conclusions like that?  Perhaps she doesn't react exactly as you'd consider is the 'norm' (perhaps she's born an introvert, she internalises things...) What does 'normal' mean anyway?  The answer is different again when you ask about 'normal' in 1950's England (- all very worried about the way the 'family' is perceived by outsiders).  Obviously she ends up with a definite neurological condition, but the question is, as some of you have asked, was she born with it?  or is it the way she's been treated / sheltered etc? - or has that treatment exaccerbated a very mild and workable position on that neurological spectrum.  Mental heath isn't black and white, and I'm interested in that fine line between insanity and sanity - the amount of 'normal' people I've met recently who say things like 'oh yes, I have to walk round the bed three times before I get in', or 'I need to count the angles in every room I walk into' or other symptoms of officially recognised neurological conditions.   
I think I should get on and answer some other questions, but I like to think that Ginny didn't push her sister... there you go I said it!  But it's interesting to me that so many of you jumped to the conclusion that she did, even when she told you she didn't!
Poppy


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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Hi Maria
I don't know anything at all about the woman who lived and died in Seaborough Court, unfortunately.  All I know is that she refused to move out, and I assumed that she was slightly eccentric.   So although Seaborough was the inspiration for the setting - and obviously the house becomes a huge part of the book - the woman wasn't my inspiration for Ginny.  But she certainly got me thinking. 
Poppy


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nhawkinsII
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Hi, Poppy.
 
The Sister is addictive as well as thought-provoking.  I started reading and could not stop!   
 
1.   Is Ginny a psychopath?  She definitely lacks empathy, feigns emotion and has absolutely no remorse or quilt about her sister's murder.   I also thought she had an elevated opinion of her career as a "renown scientist".  (I don't believe she completed any real work after Clive left the lab.)
 
2.  After Vivi's accident in "The Bell Tower", Maud definitely thought Ginny had a hand in the incident.  Ginny gives us a crisp description of the Viv's toast, the subsequent fall but never indicates that she tried to reach out for her sister nor did I find any evidence that Ginny went for help.  So it must have been Vivi's grasp of the bell and the subsequent ringing that alerted her family...true?
 
3.  In 1948 about the time of Vivi's accident what would Dr. Moyse have been able to tell the family about Ginny?  (Obviously Maud and Clive both were aware of Ginny's "peculiarities" and were looking for answers.)
 
4.  Does the title The Sister actually refer to Ginny?  (Pg. 261, PC Bolt states " 'Are you Miss Virginia Stone?  Right, I didn't realize you were the sister ' ".)
 
5.  What about Vivi?  She certainly must have been concerned about Ginny actions and her own safety since her new friend Eileen contacted the police when Vivi didn't come for tea. 
 
I would really like to read Vivi's story.  Maybe there's not a whole novel, but I would have loved a chapter following Ginny's ending comments written as news or magazine coverage of Vivi's life and death at the hands of her sister.
 
There are so many ideas I would love to discuss...thank you for story I will remember for a long time. 
 
Nancy
 
 
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Everyman
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Poppy_Adams wrote: But it's interesting to me that so many of you jumped to the conclusion that [Ginny pushed Vivien off the bell tower], even when she told you she didn't!

LOL! So we're to believe everything Ginny tells us! Not this reader! :smileyhappy:
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
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grapes
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Dear Poppy Adams,
 
You have wrote a wonderful book. For me, it was a page turner. While writing about Ginny, what were your feelings about her especially after she murdered Vivi?
 
Did you have any specific illness in mind while writing about Ginny?
 
I felt sympathy for both Vivi and Ginny. Which sister engaged your heart the most?
 
Was it more difficult to write about Ginny or about Vivi?
Grapes
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Mselet
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Dear Ms. Adams,
 
Thank you for writing such an engaging book.  What stood out to me the most besides the character development, was most definitely the mood and tone of the work.  Sometimes I found myself thinking, "I'm not ready to go to moody England just yet," and I'd put off reading for a while.  That's to say from the moment I opened the book, I was immediately engrossed in "that place."
 
My question is in terms of your writing process.  Were there any writing rituals you went through to re-engage in the mood/tone of the novel, or was it a constant hum beneath the surface of your everyday life?
 
Thanks, again, for a wonderful read!
 
 
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lcnh1
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Ms. Adams
 
Thank you for allowing us to read your first book.  I did enjoy the book although there were parts that I liked more than others.  I did find the chapters that were more moth-centric to be tougher to read than those that were more character driven.  I liked how there could be different points of view depending on your perspective.
 
I'm curious to know if you were following the online discussions that the group was having the last few weeks and what you thought of some of the theories that readers had (Ginny pushed Vivi vs. Vivi fell; who pushed Maud or did she trip and fall; what was the final straw the pushed Ginny to kill Vivi; Ginny and Vivi could be the same person; etc.)?  I have many unanswered questions as well, some of which have already been asked.  Why did Vivi come home?  At one point I thought she was looking for something in the house so maybe she came back for money or something.  Towards the end, I thought that Ginny might have dementia and Vivi was coming to look after her or get her institutionalized but after being gone for so long I didn't know why Vivi would even care.
 
Thanks.
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CylonReader
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Hello Ms. Adams!
 
I wanted to say thank you - for a thoroughly thought-provoking and interesting read! I really enjoyed your book...in particular, the events taking place on "Monday" were totally riveting. I'm already loaning my ARC to my neighbor, who is also an avid reader!
 
I appreciate the opportunity to read your first novel, along with other members of the First Look Book Club. I wish you much success:smileyhappy:
 
Lisa
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LisaMM
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Re: Questions for the Editor

Dear Ms. Adams,

I thoroughly enjoyed your book, The Sister, and thank you for the opportunity to be one of the first to read it. I'm passing it around to my book club and also wrote a review of it on my blog.

Ginny was fascinating, and I spent much of my reading time wondering about her.. the whole nature vs. nurture thing.. it is clear from the time we 'meet' her in her lookout post that all is not right with her- she is definitely a little off- but I wondered how she got that way.

Was she born with some sort of mental problem, or was she a product of her environment and the way she'd been treated throughout her life? There was so much speculation about autism and Asbergurs, but I began to think that she was just a normal kid who was a bit introverted and socially awkward. After being treated differently by her parents, paling in contrast to her more vibrant sister, teased by classmates, used and abused by an alcoholic mother, she became increasingly isolated over time, causing her to go a little nuts. I realize there is no 'right' answer about Ginny, but it made me think about how a child's personality can so easily be shaped and molded by outside sources.

Thanks for making me think!
www.lisamm.wordpress.com
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jmcauliffe
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book.    The story was well put together.    You leave us to use our own perceptions to explain the story, but did you draw from experiences in your own life to create portions of this story?    
 


Poppy_Adams wrote:
 
Personally, I wouldn't say I have left questions 'unanswered' as some of you have thought (for that implies an unfinished job); I would say I have left you to answer them - and then, perhaps, to look at your answers and question how our society or your own experiences have led you to them (...how your own biology and/or nurture may have contributed).  One goal of mine in writing this book was to make the reader think, to question the singularity of each of our perceptions (and each of the characters), societies role in our understanding (I will come on to how the U.S audience react differently to the UK one)...  
The Sister can be read on many different levels - as a story only, or to understand other aspects of human nature.  I know it doesn't necessarily follow the 'rules' of some stories, in which every plotline, action and thought is tied up and resolved, but life isn't like that and nor are our perceptions of it.  So I don't want to write books like that. 
So I'd like to repeat this - The Sister is purposefully nonprescriptive, and at times ambiguous, and other people's opinions are equally as valid as mine - and more than that, reflect their experience and society's differing values. 



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Everyman
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

I hope somebody rescued the dog and is taking care of it.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
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Everyman
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

There were some discussions during the past few weeks about why Ginny sometimes directly addresses the reader -- she says "you" on a number of occasions. That obviously means something, but we were unable to find any sort of agreement on what.

Can you elucidate this for us? Or is it just another ambiguity you prefer to leave to us to fret over?
_______________
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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams



dhaupt wrote:
Ms. Adams,
First of all let me say thank you for being a part of this unique and incredibly fun venue.
I really enjoyed reading your book and discussing it with all the other members of first look. I have two questions for you.
1- In the book I mistook the sisters ages as being older than they apparently were - was this on purpose or am I just that dense.
2 - And why Moths? I really enjoyed reading about their habits and such and just wondered are moths special to you or did you just pick them at random.

Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity.

Dear Debbie

Thank you for your questions and for your interesting comments during the discussions which I have been following.  I’m glad you liked the book.

1.  I have grappled with why some of you thought that the sister’s were written as if they were older than they are.  Ginny is 70.  Vivien is 67.  Do you know which descriptions led you believe that they were older?  I do know many people of this age and I am fully aware that they do not consider themselves ‘old’, even if a younger generation might describe them as such.  I would be very ill-advised to start on a novel with a 70 year old first-person narrator without knowing this rudimentary universal truth!    My own grandmother who is 100 (and is old!) has often said in many respects she feels no different to when she was 30!  I have always held the view that you are as old as you feel (or, sometimes, stay as old as you decide to stay).  I know 25 year olds whose attitude are more of a 60 year old, and vice versa.  In fact, this understanding was one reason that I felt able to write in the character of a 70 year old.  How would I have been able to get inside her head if I did not believe that the disparity of our ages made fundamentally no difference?  I’m intrigued by this subject. 

I think one thing that changes as we age is that we think about the past more but in this case Ginny only really delved into the past when Vivi returned and she was forced to.  The other thing that is often true is that our sibling relationships don’t mature much.  We seem to revert to the same petty debates and annoyances of our teenage years however old we are, and it is the reason I made the relationship of these sisters reform as if it had been undeterred by time or maturity. 

Perhaps it is that when the sisters first meet Vivi says ‘look at us, we’re old people!’ but they haven’t seen each other since their early twenties, so I imagined they would be shocked!  Or Ginny’s arthritis – but this can strike at any age, is extremely debilitating and tiring.  As for her attitude, it is wrong to think that everyone in England was affected by the ‘swinging sixties’ – that was a relatively small movement, most girls were kept away from anything like that, still turning to marriage to get themselves out of their strict parents home. 

I have tried to emphasis the different attitudes of the sisters – Vivi with her up-to-date clothes and accessories, her mobile phone, her pizza bases...  Ginny, as someone who has barely had contact with the outside world and has withdrawn to live inside herself.  Don’t you think many of the things Ginny does or thinks are immature and naïve?

I wonder if you think you were affected, at all, by knowing that the author was much younger than the narrator?

2.  Moths!  I am not able to go into the many parallels, metaphors, and biological and philosophical reasons why I based my story around the biology of moths, but I assure you moths were not picked at random!  I am very glad that some people can read the book and enjoy it purely for the storyline and the characterization, but these people may also be the ones most frustrated by not finding all the ‘answers’ they want to the plot.  I have tried to write a book that, apart from the storyline, leave people thinking about many themes and ideas that interest me, about our nature, our society, and our experience of life.  For instance, did it make you wonder whether there is such a thing as freewill?  Or if freewill is purely an illusion? These ideas are not necessarily spelt out in a single paragraph in the book, but I am hoping they come through slowly, drip-fed, so that perhaps they only come to mind on reflection.   I am not naïve enough to think I will have succeeded in that for everyone, or even for most people. I have no idea!  I had many ‘goals’ I was trying to achieve when I started out.

Thanks again for your questions, Debbie.

All the best

Poppy



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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams



nmccarthy wrote:
Poppy,
I thorougly enjoyed reading your book. I especially liked the intertwining of moth science with familial relationships. Books that entertain, while teaching me something new are my favorites. I finished the book three days ago and I am still turning if over and over in my mind.
 
How did you come about your knowledge of moths and butterflies?
 
Were you thinking of the characteristics of a particular moth or butterfly to represent Ginny's emergence? How about Vvien?
 
Best wishes for your upcoming release, and I look forward to reading many more titles by you.
Nancy
 
 


Dear Nancy

I am glad you enjoyed the book, and even more pleased you are still turning it over in your mind!  I, too, enjoy books that entertain and teach and make me think about things differently.

My husband is an insect enthusiast, and is particularly keen on moths.  I knew very little about their habits and biology and I enjoyed being introduced to this fascinating world.  Take metamorphosis.  We have all known the lifecycle of a butterfly / moth since we were about three years old, but how many of us have grasped the miracle of this entire process, a process not controlled in any conscious way by the creature it is happening to.  How many of us have witnessed pupation, where the caterpillar (as in the book) splits itself spontaneously along its midriff, discarding its legs and outer body?   

The rest of the science in the book – the biochemistry, and the experiments that Clive and Ginny do – are from my own research and my own scientific background (I read biochemistry at university). 

One debate I have always been keen on is the ‘consciousness’ one and the 1950’s was a pivotal time for that debate.  In general terms, up until then, most people believed that most animals made conscious ‘decisions’ (they didn’t have all the scientific knowledge to prove otherwise).  Since then, the scientific community have argued that humans (and possibly some apes) are the only animals who are self-aware and the rest are oblivious to themselves.   But how much awareness and ‘choice’ do we really have when we are necessarily confined to the limits of our biology and chemistry?  (a simple pill can drastically change our personality…)  Jerking your hand away from a scolding pot is not a conscious action.  It’s a reflex.  But until we knew that – scientifically - we had thought it was our own choice, our own free will.  Has nature lulled us into thinking we are making more choices than we are, tricked us into believing in freewill?

Ginny has melded her research into herself.  She thinks her every action is purely the product of her experiences on her biological makeup, giving her no real choice over her actions at all – rather like the unconscious creatures she studies (and pities for this state of mind).

Lastly, I was not thinking of any particular species of ‘moth’ to represent Ginny’s  ‘emergence’, although you are right, she definitely emerged!  You may have known my original title was The Time of Emergence.  And I have been intrigued by the readers’ many ideas of Ginny as the privet hawk caterpillar, the maggots that devour it from inside out or the cannibals with ‘that look about them’!

Best wishes, Nancy, thanks for the questions.

Poppy



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FrankieD
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams

Thanks Poppy !!!  In the midst of a very busy month at school ( I teach carpentry to high school kids) it was a great treat to read your book. The relationship between the sisters was very interesting...and made me think about my sister and I as we grew up. Anyway, I'm glad that you left some loose-ends in the story because I really enjoy leaving with some of my own conclusions...that's what makes reading so exciting:smileyhappy: so thanks again and now I'll be watching for your next book.
                                                                                                Frankie D :smileyhappy: 
" The longer I live...the more beautiful life becomes."
- Frank Lloyd Wright
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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Questions for the Editor



LisaMM wrote:
Dear Ms. Adams,

I thoroughly enjoyed your book, The Sister, and thank you for the opportunity to be one of the first to read it. I'm passing it around to my book club and also wrote a review of it on my blog.

Ginny was fascinating, and I spent much of my reading time wondering about her.. the whole nature vs. nurture thing.. it is clear from the time we 'meet' her in her lookout post that all is not right with her- she is definitely a little off- but I wondered how she got that way.

Was she born with some sort of mental problem, or was she a product of her environment and the way she'd been treated throughout her life? There was so much speculation about autism and Asbergurs, but I began to think that she was just a normal kid who was a bit introverted and socially awkward. After being treated differently by her parents, paling in contrast to her more vibrant sister, teased by classmates, used and abused by an alcoholic mother, she became increasingly isolated over time, causing her to go a little nuts. I realize there is no 'right' answer about Ginny, but it made me think about how a child's personality can so easily be shaped and molded by outside sources.

Thanks for making me think!

Dear Lisa

I’m really glad you enjoyed the book and that you are asking many of the questions that I posed.   I found the response of this bookclub really revealing:  As soon as you met Ginny – first chapter – you all shouted ‘what’s wrong with her, what’s she got, what label can we give her!’.  I found that surprising because I think many ‘normal’ people have (or develop) behaviors similar to Ginny’s – especially if they live on their own - OCD tendencies, superstitious habits (remember I’m only on the first or second chapter!!) 

The thing I found most interesting is that I did not get the same, immediate, response from an equally intelligent UK audience.  I may be wrong, but this is what I have decided:  the English love their eccentrics, they ‘willed’ her to just be eccentric and didn’t want to find anything officially wrong with her.  Perhaps they are also more used to the idea of an eccentric living in a big country house because there are still so many of them here!  Do you think it’s because the English find eccentrics more endearing and American’s like their labels?   I also found it interesting that once the UK audience did realise she was a little more 'off' than eccentric (inherent or created), they suddenly found her habits less ‘endearing’.  Although she was no different, their perception of her had drastically changed.     

I was thinking about this story while reading accounts by people who have been diagnosed with a 'mild' condition late in life, middle-aged or over.  This was either because the condition developed late (perhaps triggered by an external factor) or because they were born at a time when these ‘conditions’ or ‘spectrums’ weren’t recognized.  I have now heard many heart-rending stories of people who have always felt that have been misunderstood or ostracized by society.  All that changes when they are given a diagnosis – Not only is it a relief to them, but takes away misunderstanding and fear from those around them.  In the past many derogatory terms were used to describe people with an unknown neurological condition -  ‘village idiot’, ‘oddball’ or ‘slow’.  When they are given an understandable medical term to describe their condition to friends, family and employers, they become less like strangers.  They can find out more about their condition, be proud of it or find ways round it, and most of all, are able to contact other people in the same situation.   

Now that we now know so much more about our brains and the way they work we can hand out labels, but does that mean that society is becoming less tolerant of behaviour outside the norm?  Are we losing our eccentrics and colourful characters?  When does eccentricity (which society finds endearing) spill over to a medical condition (which society wants to treat).  The line is fine.  Who is the judge? 

You are right, Lisa, Ginny’s ‘problem’ wasn’t that striking when she was young.  It is so mild to start with that we do not know if it was inherent or created, as you say.   And I wanted the reader to judge their own perceptions.

I have another question for you.  Do you think that, if their parents decided not to talk about these very 'mild' pecularities (perhaps just introverted...) in any medical terms, to try to be ‘normal’ in their blinkered vision, that Vivien, as the younger sister, might have grown up not realizing there was anything really wrong with Ginny?  I feel that children always think that the way they grow up is 'normal' and only question it later on.  Just a thought.

Thanks for reading the book, and take care.

Poppy


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Melissa_W
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Question about potassium cyanide

Just a science question here - where did you find the description of potassium cyanide as "synaptic blocker poison" that Ginny gives at the end of Chapter 21?  I'm a biologist/epidemiologist and that is not the description that we learned in school; the cyanide ions bind to cytochrome oxidase and disrupt the production of ATP during oxidative phosphorylation occuring in the mitochondria.  Is the description meant to illustrate that Ginny has little formal schooling beyond age 15 or 16 and never went to University?

Poppy_Adams wrote:

My husband is an insect enthusiast, and is particularly keen on moths.  I knew very little about their habits and biology and I enjoyed being introduced to this fascinating world.  Take metamorphosis.  We have all known the lifecycle of a butterfly / moth since we were about three years old, but how many of us have grasped the miracle of this entire process, a process not controlled in any conscious way by the creature it is happening to.  How many of us have witnessed pupation, where the caterpillar (as in the book) splits itself spontaneously along its midriff, discarding its legs and outer body?   

The rest of the science in the book – the biochemistry, and the experiments that Clive and Ginny do – are from my own research and my own scientific background (I read biochemistry at university). 



Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
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Poppy_Adams
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Re: Questions for Poppy Adams



Everyman wrote:
Poppy_Adams wrote: But it's interesting to me that so many of you jumped to the conclusion that [Ginny pushed Vivien off the bell tower], even when she told you she didn't!

LOL! So we're to believe everything Ginny tells us! Not this reader! :smileyhappy:

Everyman. 

Obviously at the point when her sister falls off the bell tower I do not assume you know she is an unreliable narrator.  As you read on you may come to that conclusion but my point (above, but taken out of context from one of my previous posts) was that many readers assumed she had a hand in the fall, just from her 'unusual' behavior as compared to what they imagine the 'norm' should be in our society. 

Everyman, I would like to be able to answer people's questions in an open and easy manner – and answer them quickly – and I think it will be a less enjoyable and satisfying discussion if I have to pick my words as pedantically as I would if I were on trial.  I have been extremely interested in the feedback from this First Look bookclub.  I have no problem with people finding fault in my story, or my ideas, and questioning me, because I am very confident that I have not, in my own mind, left any stone unturned.    But I would rather not have to reply to someone who is actively picking holes in my responses when, in reality, you are intelligent enough to understand the point, but are trying to take a cheap shot.  I am well aware you did not enjoy this book, but I would really appreciate it if you would give me the room I need to feel relaxed and open when answering people's questions.  Thank you.  

Poppy



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