Today I’m pleased to welcome Isobel Blackthorn to the blog. Isobel is the author of The Drago Tree and her latest novel, A Perfect Square, was published on 27 August 2016 by Odyssey Books.
Today Isobel talks about that thing called a muse.
My Devilish Muse
With my latest release, A Perfect Square, I took a risk with a strong narrative voice. I didn’t seem to have a choice. It was the way the story wanted to come out. I might have been reacting to the crisp and clean tradition spawned by Hemingway. Maybe A Perfect Square is an antidote. It’s certainly exuberant in places; to me the story reads like an adventure with an enthusiastic companion. Here’s a short extract:
“She was suddenly uncomfortably hot. After a quick glance in the direction of the Pianola, she stood. It had been an unusually warm late winter’s day and at last a cool breeze blew in through the front windows. She went and drew the curtains further aside, curtains of luxurious sanguine velvet, gorgeous to touch, curtains her daughter had said in one of her vinegary moments were more likely to be found in the boudoir of a courtesan.
The garden was admirable at that time of year: Long and wide and south facing, shaded on the high side by a stand of mountain ash, the half-moon raised bed that coursed much of the garden’s width retained by a low bluestone wall. Her gaze lingered here and there over the ajugas, columbines, penstemons and erigeron daisies, at last settling on the delicate leaves of the weeping Japanese maple, and the hellebores and euphorbias at its base. A wide drive of crushed limestone wound its way from door to carport and thence to gate, skirting the wall where the raised bed was widest. To either side of the gate, two rhododendrons provided privacy and, together with a row of tree ferns, dogwoods and camellias, formed a dark backdrop. At times she felt like liberating the garden from that herbage screen, throwing the space open to The Crescent, but her privacy mattered more. A handful of youngsters had gathered outside the garden of next-door-but-one and she could hear their laughter. It wouldn’t be long before they were gone, but she pulled the windows to the mullion, fastened the handles and moved aside. Not normally bothered by juvenile activity, any more than she was given to gazing out her front window, yet she wanted to shut out distractions, even as she shut in the dissonance: dissonance at once familiar and disappointing.“
It’s easy to see that Harriet is a colourful character. When I started to write a Perfect Square it was as if a fire erupted deep inside, and up sprang a garrulous narrator. It was as though my muse had decided to be devilishly old-school as though I had Absolutely Fabulous stuck in my head! I suppose Jennifer Saunders had a big influence on how the book is written. I also wanted to portray the sort of vintage eccentricity associated with those who like to dabble in the occult. Even the setting lends itself to an old-school style. I was being rebellious too. I was told over and again that my writing has an English twang to it. I wanted to play on that, exaggerate it. That was my intention.
The voice creates a mood. It’s one of denial. Pretentiousness is always about denial. And Harriet is as pretentious as they come. As the story unfolds there are other voices. That of her daughter, Ginny, and then there’s Judith, living an obscure life on the outskirts of Exeter. Ginny is deep, introspective, thoughtful. She’s also deeply troubled. She’s nothing like Saffron in Ab Fab, although both women find their mother overbearing and oppressive. Judith is an artist, living a solitary life in her old family home. I first encountered Judith and her daughter Madeleine in two short stories I wrote a few years ago. I had planned writing a third, but instead I took the characters, changed them a little, and worked them into A Perfect Square.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing A Perfect Square. I’m especially fond of Harriet’s best friend, Phoebe Ashworth, and I have a soft spot for all the characters in the Internet forum Judith explores, aptly named ‘The Forum’.
About the author
A Londoner originally, Isobel Blackthorn currently resides in Melbourne, Australia. She received her BA in Social Studies from the Open University, and has a PhD in Western Esotericism. She has worked as a high school teacher, market trader and PA to a literary agent. Her writing has appeared in Backhand Stories, The Mused, On Line Opinion and Fictive Dream. Other works include the novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree, and the short story collection, All Because of You.
About the Book:
“When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after the breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself. She contrives an artistic collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.
While mother and daughter struggle with 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 literary thriller of remarkable depth and insight.”