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Clare's Café Highlights w/c 26 March

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Clare English Clare English | 15:10 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2012

Jodi Picoult is a name. A pretty darned big name. 18 best-selling novels under her belt to date and a firm favourite with book groups worldwide, she is an extremely prolific and talented writer who's nailed the art of telling a great story while airing some of society's most intractable ethical issues. I knew all this; we've spoken before when I recall being struck by her warmth, integrity and intelligence. What I didn't know was that Jodi Picoult is the most accommodating guest you're ever likely to have on air. Proof of that came on Monday's Book Café when the world renowned author howled like a wolf! Why? Because she could and because I asked her to. Oh, and it wasn't ANY old wolf howl. She gave us a range of options.. from the Alpha or Beta wolves in the pack- we even got different moods! Moments like that are golden, even if passing dogs are confused for a while. Jodi Picoult has every right to howl like a wolf if she so wishes but there is a sound and sane reason for her acquiring this seemingly random skill. Her new book is called LONE WOLF; it's the story of a man who felt more at home living in the wilderness with a family of wolves rather than with his own wife and kids. Unfortunately there wasn't much more living in store for Luke Baxter, because in the first chapter he's involved in a nasty accident and left on a life support system in hospital.

Cue hallmark Picoult moral dilemma. Luke's son, Edward, wants to switch off the life support and donate his father's organs BUT there's a snag! Edward may just have an ulterior motive for terminating Dad's life. Daughter Cara has warmer feelings towards her Dad and she is involved in the car accident that damages Luke's brain irreparably. She is seventeen and still a minor, so this adds spice to the legal battle of wills that ensues. The wolves meanwhile, seem to be getting on with their own affairs as their human friend lies in a coma. Like the Mitchell clan in Eastenders, the wolves have a stunningly simple philosophy - it's all about FAMILY. It's probably a foregone conclusion that LONE WOLF will prove to be another best seller for Picoult who now plans to write teen fiction with her daughter (one book already out of the way, apparently!) But for me, her bizarre wolf comms skills will remain the highlight of that interview. I'm even thinking about visiting a wolf sanctuary myself. They've always had bad press but frankly I'd be thrilled to see them. I'd be standing well back though, as I stuttered "what big teeth you have".

Susan Cain professes to be one of life's introverts but she was far from shy on the Book Cafe. She was positively chipper talking about her much praised book, QUIET. The central hypothesis is that we (ie/Western society) may think extroverts are ace, make the best leaders etc but no no no! We are missing the point! The quiet, analytical types who refuse to table-thump or shout at meetings were the ones to watch. The meek already DO inherit the earth - look at Bill Gates- what a loser, eh? Barack Obama has never struck me as a shrinking violet yet according to Cain he is NOT an extrovert.

Clarification time - being an introvert doesn't mean you dislike people or company. It does mean you may be more comfortable spending time with your thoughts, reading or engaged in solitary pursuits. Presenting a BBC Scotland arts programme might sound tailor made for a loud mouthed extrovert but I assure you, despite the ability to yak till the cows come home, I'm happiest in a room with a few good friends. Perhaps that explains my love of my dark little studio in Pacific Quay. You can never fit more than six people in at any one time...perfect.

Tuesday's Culture Café got off to a flying start with a double act. Novelist and Edinburgh institution, Sandy McCall Smith dropped by to talk about his new big idea - creating the largest tapestry in the world which would tell Scotland's story. He enlisted some help with the history from a friend, Alistair Moffat, a regular Café visitor. As the two exchanged banter, images of Morecambe and Wise flitted through my head- this pair are so tuned into one another they actually finish each other's sentences. A career in television cabaret beckons surely!

About half an hour later, as the Culture Café drew to a close, we hooked up live with our last guest in New York. Photographer Will Steacy's compiled a collection of essays written by fellow professionals called PHOTOGRAPHS NOT TAKEN. For a man who'd had to set his alarm to "stupid o'clock", Will was exceedingly bright and engaged. We spoke about the fact that his book didn't contain ONE single image (defeats the purpose, doesn't it?) and he told me that he'd managed to persuade no less than sixty-two photographers to share their thoughts with him. Amongst them, a familiar name - Tim Hetherington, a war photographer, was on our show the year before last, just after he'd brought out a film and accompanying book with Sebastian Junger called RESTREPO. The book contained images of a young company of US soldiers operating in the heat, dust and chaos of Eastern Afghanistan. Crucially, Tim captured the banalities of being a soldier too...stuck for hours or days on end, waiting for the next engagement. These were BOYS, not men, and their story was eloquently told by Tim's fantastic images. Tragically Tim died last April, camera by his side, amidst the tumult of Gaddafi's last days in Libya. I asked Will to tell us about Tim's contribution to PHOTOGRAPHS NOT TAKEN but it was soon obvious this was too much of an ask. There was a catch in Will's voice and he trailed off mid-sentence when he attempted to answer my question. We moved on swiftly and concentrated on the many reasons that a photographer might miss an image- no camera to hand was one rather obvious explanation, but sometimes the moment was too fleeting, or it just seemed plain wrong to point the lens at someone or a difficult situation. One such example came from Sylvia Plachy. She ventured out on a street in midtown Manhattan shortly after the twin towers collapsed on 9/11. She spotted a dust covered man who she described as looking like he'd "walked through hell". He was, she said, the very ICON of tragedy. Yet she didn't push the shutter button. WHY? She felt ashamed, she hesitated. It didn't feel right. As my conversation with Will continued, we discussed a shocking photograph in the press that day - a burning figure running through the streets of New Dehli, protesting against the Chinese hold on Tibet. It was a jaw dropping, dreadful image. But the photographer in this instance didn't hover over the shutter release... he chose to record this soul sapping moment for posterity. What makes a good photographer? Conscience, bravery, fortitude, luck, morality and being human. Choosing whether or not to capture an image is rarely a black and white issue. Read the book and you'll see what I mean.


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