An Interview with Isabel Costello, author of Paris Mon Amour

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I have had Paris Mon Amour on my TBR for ages so I decided that whilst I was finding time to read it I’d ask the author Isabel Costello if she would be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag. Luckily she agreed! Paris Mon Amour was published by Canelo on 13th June 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Paris Mon Amour

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The first time I caused terrible harm to the people I love it was an accident. The second is the reason I’m here.

When Alexandra discovers that her husband Philippe is having an affair, she can’t believe he’d risk losing the love that has transformed both their lives.

Still in shock, Alexandra finds herself powerfully attracted to a much younger man. Jean-Luc Malavoine is twenty-three, intense and magnetic. He’s also the son of Philippe’s best friend.

With every increasingly passionate liaison, Alexandra is pulled deeper into a situation that threatens everyone she holds dear.

Beautifully told through the boulevards and arrondissements of the City of Light, Paris Mon Amour is a sensual novel about inescapable desire and devastating betrayals. It is the story of one woman and two men, and what happens when there is no way out.

An Interview with Isabel Costello

Hi Isabel. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Paris Mon Amour.

Normally you’re the one featuring authors on your own blog, the Literary Sofa. How does it feel to have the tables turned on you today?

It feels great, thank you for inviting me! Like any writer I’m delighted when anyone takes an interest in my book.  And knowing how many debuts are out there at any given moment, I really appreciate the enthusiastic response from the blogging community.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

I’ve always had a vivid imagination and a tendency to notice things – I loved reading and writing stories from a young age. But it wasn’t until my thirties, when I was busy with small children and had very little head space, that I felt a real need to write.  It became impossible to ignore and when I finally took it up aged 41, it was a huge relief.  It’s changed everything.

Why did you choose Paris as the setting for your debut novel Paris Mon Amour?

My lifelong connections with France run so deep I can’t imagine myself without them.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and whenever I’m there (fortunately quite often) I get a strange sense of heightened emotion that unleashes inspiration and ideas. Whilst the sensual, romantic image of Paris makes an ideal backdrop for my fiction, life in any city has a darker dimension too and I try to reflect that.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

The two kinds of research I enjoy are walking the streets, imagining my characters’ relationship with the setting, as distinct from mine – and talking to people, to further my understanding of a place or situation.  In the process of writing Paris Mon Amour several individuals confided very private experiences relevant to the themes and I was touched by that. Frankness is important to me – a lot of what makes a novel realistic and relatable comes down to emotional truth and things we usually keep to ourselves.

Which aspects of the writing process do you enjoy most/least?

I don’t enjoy producing first drafts and the inevitable obsession with word count, which has to be the least meaningful indicator of progress (or quality) there is.  I love all the technical components of fiction – characterisation, plot, dialogue, prose – I’ve been thinking about what makes a book work for most of my life so it’s exciting to put it into practice.  I thrive on the risky business of tackling taboo subjects: in my novel narrator Alexandra’s affair with the much younger son of her husband’s best friend falls into that category. Whatever the story, I have to feel absolutely compelled to tell it.

You’ve written quite a bit of short fiction as well as Paris Mon Amour. How similar or different did you find a full length novel?

Writing short stories is not only satisfying in its own right (you get to finish something in weeks rather than years) but it’s helped me a great deal with writing novels.  In the short form, every word, line and detail must justify its presence or face the chop, which I’ve realised is a great discipline to apply to any piece of writing: novels, features, reviews, even blog posts. So the two are not as different as they may appear; I’d encourage anyone who wants to work on their prose style to experiment with short fiction.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

My taste is very broad, but I like books which make me think and are emotionally engaging.  Not too bleak or heavy – dark and deep is fine, as long as it’s balanced with some light or humour. Controversial or charged themes make for lively discussion, which I enjoy.  But what thrills me most is really good writing – it takes me less than a page to detect it.  If the style or voice grate, however, it’s unlikely I’ll make it past the first chapter.

In Paris Mon Amour you explore human nature and our inability to cease doing those things we feel guilty about. Did you set out to do this or did the themes arise naturally?

My fascination with human nature underpins everything I write.  I don’t set out to focus on guilt but it crops up every time; I mostly write from a female perspective and women are particularly prone to it. People are complicated and often fragile – it’s hard to reconcile all the factors that make us who we are and I’m especially interested in the ‘interior life’ behind the face we present to others. My outwardly conventional and respectable protagonist Alexandra is the last person anyone would expect to be unhinged by irresistible desire. The only conscious aim with this book was to challenge the myths and double standards surrounding female sexuality – there’s no separating that from human nature!

I thought the cover to Paris Mon Amour suggested the loss of innocence. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The lilies have a symbolic meaning in the book and using them on the cover was the brainwave of my publisher Iain Millar at Canelo, brilliantly interpreted by designer Dan Mogford.  Although the shattered lily image looks like digital trickery, the truth is that Australian photographer Anna Thomas flash-freezes real blooms in liquid nitrogen and smashes them with a hammer! The cover has been a hit with readers and I do think it conveys the story very well, but to say more would indeed be a spoiler…

If Paris Mon Amour became a film, who would you like to play the main characters and why?  

Philippe is easy – Alexandra describes her husband as looking like ‘Vincent Cassel in a good suit’ (as opposed to when playing a gangster) – I’ll admit to slightly indulging myself there! Alexandra is more difficult – she’s 40 and definitely attractive, but most actresses still in the public eye at that point are only photographed in red-carpet mode and don’t look their age. For Jean-Luc, her lover, I’d cast Vladimir Perrin (as seen in the TV series Résistance and the Taylor Swift video Begin Again), although at 27 he’s already four years older, so interested parties please note that there’s no time to waste!

Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.

 

About Isabel Costello

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Isabel Costello is a writer and avid reader of contemporary fiction, a keen traveller and a lifelong francophile.

Originally from Wiltshire, after studying modern languages she moved to London where she lives with her husband and teenage sons. Five years ago she started the Literary Sofa blog.

Her other interests include art, photography, theatre, cooking and wine. Isabel is also a great believer in the restorative powers of a long swim and a long bath.

You can follow Isabel on Twitter, find out more on her blog and visit her on Facebook.

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