Saturday 27 August 2016

Back Catalogue Books - Q&A with Isboel Blackthorn

Back Catalogue Books is my new regular Saturday feature, focusing on books that are not the latest releases. There is going to be a mix of Q&As and also reviews, depending on what I have the space for. 

If you are an author wanting to take part in Back Catalogue Books then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you. 

I hope everyone enjoys this weekly look back at some of the slightly older books that are about but still great, and that I eventually make a dent in my TBRs as a result of it! 

This week we have Isobel Blackthorn talking about her previous welcome.

I’m a Londoner originally and I’ve spent almost half my life in the UK. I’ve also lived in Spain and the Canary Islands.  Now I’m in Melbourne, Australia. I have two daughters, twins, all grown up and leading busy lives. I’ve been a high school teacher, a market trader and PA to a literary agent. I have a PhD in Western Esotericism.

Please tell me about your first book, and what started you writing in the first place

I’ve wanted to be a creative writer since I was eleven. My passion for it grew in my late teens and early twenties and a few people around me thought I had some talent for it, but I had no confidence at all and I was too caught up with the challenging workings of my own mind to consider other people’s, even in fiction. I was one of those young people told to ‘get a real job’. I waited and waited and when finally my daughters reached 18, the creative passion in me reared up and demanded my attention. 

My writing started out intensely autobiographical. It’s taken years to transcend this. My first novel, Asylum, began as memoir. It was so dour my beta readers were left depressed for days. So a year later I hacked into it, deleted over half the content, created a character that definitely wasn’t me, and re-wrote it. I slaved and slaved over the story. I wanted to portray what its like to be a British-born visa overstayer in Australia. I wanted to tell a story from a perspective that was critical of this country. A story of alienation. 

How many books have you written and what are they?

I am working on my fifth novel. I had two novels published last year, Asylum, a work of contemporary women’s fiction, and The Drago Tree, a literary love story set on Lanzarote. I also have a short story collection, All Because of You, released in May this year (2016).  My next novel, A Perfect Square, a literary thriller, is out in August. 

Which book are you most proud of writing?

I am most proud of my short story collection, All Because of You. I started writing short stories in 2010.  They are my most autobiographical works. Although each story is carefully crafted and shaped, they are almost all based on real events and experiences. I pitched each story to every literary journal in Australia. I got little post-it notes saying ‘Well done’, and twice a story was short listed, but none made the cut. It was unbelievably demoralising. Then in 2012 a small press picked them up. I’d made it! My current publisher, Odyssey Books, loves the collection so much she re-released it, with an additional three stories. 

Which book was your favourite to write?

The Drago Tree, without a doubt. I wrote this novel in 2013, after the break up of my last relationship. I needed to escape so I took myself off to Lanzarote in my mind, immersed myself in memories, in images on the Internet, and I took Google maps man out on long tours (I clicked my way round the whole island). The writing was not without its challenges and the construction is complex with two points of view and a lot of backstory, but I was so entertained by the three main characters that sprang to life on the page. So much so, that I am now at work on a whole series based on them.

Who are your favourite characters from your books and why?

My favourite characters are geologist Ann Salter, hack crime author, Richard Parry, and indigenous potter, Domingo, all of The Drago Tree. These characters have become my best friends.

If you could go back and change anything from any of your books, what would it be, and why?

I would change some parts of Asylum, in keeping with current circumstances concerning refugees. I wrote this novel in 2012/13, before the Syrian exodus, before the huge refugee crisis in Europe. In Asylum I was focussed solely on the situation of offshore detention centres and boat turn backs, protagonist Yvette Grimm comparing her migrant situation with that of real asylum seekers, but now things have become far more critical and there is a lot more Yvette would have thought and said as a result. 

Which of your covers if your favourite and why?

I think my publisher produces great covers and I love them all. But my favourite is the one she created for All Because of You. I think it captures the mood of the collection perfectly.

Have you ever thought about changing genres, if so what else would you like to write?

This is my pet subject. I change genres all the time. I started out with literary aspirations, which was a good jumping off point because it forced me to work really hard on my craft. Each story I write sits in a different genre. I’ve just completed a work of dark fiction, tinged with domestic noir. And I’m at work on a crime series. I don’t imagine I’ll ever write fantasy or science fiction, or a traditional romance, but I really embrace the challenges of writing in different genres. It keeps an author on their toes!

Looking forward can you let us know what you are working on next?

I am very excited about my current work. Set on Lanzarote, with Ann and Richard and Domingo from The Drago Tree, it’s a quirky cosy mystery, at times hilarious but mostly gripping and intriguing. I can’t say any more than that. 

I dare not ask for a favourite author, but is there any author’s back catalogue you admire and why?

Iain Banks. I have learned more from Iain Banks than from any other writer. He is the father of my muse. He was a master storyteller, an adept, and a risk taker too.  Through him, I have developed a real affection for Scotland.

Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your back catalogue of books?

All my books to date have been published by Odyssey Books, a small press based in Canberra, Australia, and are available in English worldwide.

You can purchase all my books in paperback or e-book formats from Amazon.

Thank you so much Isobel, loving the idea of setting books in Lanzarote, and I'm very impressed at your ability to write in multiple genres.

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