Welcome back to Behind the Pen. Today I am joined by fellow reviewer and esteemed author, Isobel Blackthorn, here to talk about her novel, A Perfect Square.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I started writing creatively in 2010. The catalyst was actually two years earlier when I worked as a PA to a literary agent. A whole world opened up to me in that job. While most on our list were non-fiction authors, something sparked in me and I started to take my long-buried desire to write fiction seriously. I was fortunate to receive a lot of encouragement and guidance, not least from my employer. Then, my whole life changed and I suddenly found I also had the time to really apply myself. So I did.
How many novels have you written and published?
I have written nine novels and I’m at work on my tenth. Six have been published. Another is due out in 2019, and I have my fingers crossed for the others.
How long on average does it take you to write a novel?
This very much depends on the project. One I completed in nine months from start to finish. Most take a lot longer. The incubation phase alone can take years. Every novel has had a different genesis, from the initial spark to the final draft. On average, I would say two years.
Do you have any particular qualifications that relate to the subject matter covered in this novel?
I hold a PhD in the field of Western Esotericism and in my research, I explored two distinct ways of understanding esoteric (or occult) knowledge and putting it into practice. There are those who adhere to strict rules and laws, and those who are more fluid and flexible and who think in metaphors rather than concrete truths. Much the same can be said of religion. I took this idea and explored it through two of my characters, a mother and her daughter who collaborate on producing an exhibition of music and paintings. The result is really very funny. The reader will view things from the mother’s point of view and then the daughter’s. The situation pivots on Harriet having synaesthesia, or seeing music in colours, as her beloved artist, Kandinsky did.
How would you best describe this novel to a new reader?
A Perfect Square is in essence a story of two mothers and their daughters linked by a dark mystery. While Harriet and Ginny are busy struggling to produce works for their upcoming exhibition in the Dandenongs in Melbourne’s east, Ginny is probing Harriet as to the whereabouts of her father. Meanwhile, on Devon’s moors, artist and recluse Judith is struggling to accommodate the return of her wayward daughter, Madeleine, who has left her boyfriend and dropped out of uni. The novel is strong on setting and female leads. Themes explore the mysterious power of art and the creative process, and also touches on the occult. One reviewer described it as an “artistic Gone Girl”.
How would you describe this novel if you could only use 5 words?
A slow-burning dark mystery
How much research do you do? How do you balance the demands of getting the facts right and telling a good story?
I do lots of research. Lots and lots. I research every single detail of everything in the story. I use Google maps a lot for setting if I can’t get to a place. I research buildings, local history. I talk to people. I buy obscure books to find out bits and pieces. I want to know everything there is to know that I can contain in my head, and then let it all seep into me. I am forever fact checking. That said, I am mindful of not burdening the reader with all my titbits. For example, the astute reader will notice that the chapter titles in A Perfect Square are based on Kandinsky’s essay ‘On Spirituality’. But nowhere do I tell the reader this.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
I do as little planning as possible. I like things to emerge. My characters are felt or sensed, rather than fully formed and I love watching them evolve as the story progresses. If I am writing in the crime/mystery/thriller genre, then I tend to have the bones of the plot worked out and an ending in mind. Often, I start writing the first few chapters and see what happens, and after that I find myself plotting. The further into the story, the more narrative control is needed.
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
I have a large study which is really rather luxurious with a high ceiling and diamond pane windows, but I have chosen to tuck my corner desk in behind a door. Answering this question has me thinking I might rearrange the room. I am either here, at my desk, or in an armchair in the other room, which is where I do a lot of composing as I do like to be comfortable and very, very quiet.
You can wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life. What type are they and what colour?
Ugg boots, and probably just plain brown. Mind you, sunshine yellow would be nice, but they would get awfully dirty over time!
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