It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Isobel Blackthorn to Linda’s Book Bag with a publication day interview. Isobel’s latest novel A Perfect Square is published today by Odyssey Books and is available for purchase direclt from the publisher and your local Amazon site.
A Perfect Square
When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after her breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself and contrives a creative collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.
Mother and daughter struggle to agree on the elements of the collaborative effort, and as Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.
Meanwhile, another mother and artist, Judith, alone in a house on the moors, reflects on her own troubled past and that of her wayward daughter, Madeleine.
Set amid the fern glades and towering forests of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne, and on England’s Devon moors, A Perfect Square is a work of remarkable depth and insight.
View the book trailer here.
An Interview with Isobel Blackthorn
Hi Isobel. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Congratulations on your latest novel A Perfect Square.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a Londoner originally, and currently living near Melbourne, Australia. Growing up I wanted to write creatively but I suffered from a crushing lack of self confidence. It wasn’t until my late forties that I decided, sod it, what have I got to lose? So I dedicated myself to the art of writing as only a forty something can. Now I’m a fifty something and my passion is even stronger!
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I think it was in 2007 when I finally received the endorsement I needed, from my then new boss and literary agent. She would say to me, ‘Is this a writing weekend, Isobel?’ And on Monday it was, ‘And how’s the writing?’ No one could ask for more encouragement than that.
I know art and music feature in A Perfect Square. If you hadn’t become an author in your 40s, would you turned to art or music instead as a creative outlet or something else?
To be honest I don’t know what I would have done. At that critical turning point I was growing an awful lot of organic vegetables and I was passionate about self sufficient lifestyles so maybe I would have done that instead!
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I am meticulous about research. Doing a PhD teaches you that. Really that’s what a PhD is, proving you can do good research. I apply it right down to the smallest detail. I read scholarly works, books rather than websites, and I only rely on Google Maps if I’ve already actually been to a place.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Without doubt I find dialogue easiest. Next comes reflection. Description can be hard work but it’s like painting a picture, so worth the effort. But action! I think for me that’s the hardest. I labour just getting a character through a door.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I’m at my best in the early mornings. And I have two writing spots. My desk, and the couch. In my current home my couch faces a giant cactus, and beyond, in the neighbour’s garden, a palm tree. I stare at them a lot. I cannot write anywhere except at home.
I love Melbourne where you’re based – particularly all the sculptures. How far does living in that area influence your style as a writer?
It definitely makes my writing urban, and connects me to my roots. My latest work, still in formation, is set in Kensington, a suburb of Melbourne which contains Holland Park! I adore Melbourne. For me, it’s somewhere between the rest of the world and the vast interior that is Australia. I guess Sydney could to that too, but for me it’s too hot.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Well, my last book which I’ve just put down is Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper. He’s an Australian author, and he wrote this book just a few years ago. It’s breathtakingly good. I’m so distinctly British in the way I write that I struggle to feel that I fit in to the literary scene in any sense that might be taken. But when I came across The Street Sweeper I knew that I did.
You describe yourself as an activist. How far does this influence your writing?
Every book I write has an element to it concerning social justice. If anything this dimension to my writing gets stronger with each work. My passion just grows and grows. Arundhati Roy gave up fiction after winning the Booker with The God of Small Things, and I respect her for that. I’ve decided that if I chose that path I’d burn out. So I pour all my passion for social and environmental justice into my books and have my characters do the hard work on my behalf.
I love the cover design to A Perfect Square. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Truthfully, my publisher and I were on Lanzarote promoting my previous release, The Drago Tree, and trawling through hundreds of images, mostly artworks. We wanted to convey something of synaesthesia at first. We found a number of artworks in Deviant Art, and that one that is now the cover spoke to both of us the strongest. It conveys more the metaphysical dimension of the story.
If you could chose to be a character from A Perfect Square, who would you be and why?
Oh I’d be Harriet! Every time I think of her, Jennifer Saunders springs to mind. So Ab Fab!
If A Perfect Square became a film, who would you like to play Ginny and why?
An Australian actress naturally, so she would have to be Cate Blanchett. Now wouldn’t that be simply amazing!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that A Perfect Square should be their next read, what would you say?
Art, synaesthesia, occultism, wrapped in a dark mystery that’ll keep you guessing until the end.
Thank you so much, Isobel, for your time in answering my questions.
About Isobel Blackthorn
Writer Isobel Blackthorn grew up in London and South Australia. She currently lives in Melbourne and has a deep passion for the island idyll of Lanzarote.
She’s the author of a collection of short stories, All Because of You (2012, 2016 ), and the acclaimed novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree (Odyssey Books, 2015). Her writing has appeared in e-journals in Australia and the US.
There will be more with these other bloggers soon too: