Isobel Blackthorn – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Isobel Blackthorn to the blog. Isobel is the author of The Drago Tree and A Perfect Square. The Drago Tree, published by Odyssey Books was released in Spanish on 29 September 2017.

1. Tell us a little about The Drago Tree.

The Drago Tree is a love story. It’s a complex story of a woman, Ann Salter, fleeing the aftermath of a disastrous marriage, and staying in a cottage in an ancient village in the north of Lanzarote. There she meets two men: charismatic author Richard Parry, and indigenous potter Domingo. Together, the three of them explore the island. Ann is haunted by memories of her relationship, and her estranged sister, Penny. She’s also enchanted by the island’s incredible landscapes. The Drago Tree is both literary and travel fiction. It suits readers who like to luxuriate in a story.

2. What inspired the book?  

I came up with the first sentence for the story in 2009, but it wasn’t until early in 2013 that the various elements came together and I found myself writing my first novel. I used to live on Lanzarote, back in the 1980s, and I left under trying circumstances. I left fully expecting to return. Advice to self – never have a Plan B. I’ve ached for the island ever since. Inspiration for The Drago Tree is founded on longing. I was going through a bad patch in 2013 and researching Lanzarote’s history and environment absorbed every waking moment of my day. For months and months I was fully immersed in the story. I was jealous of my characters, who were all living or staying there! By then I hadn’t returned to the island for twenty-three years.

3. The Drago Tree is about to be published in Spanish. How did that come about and what does mean to you?

The Drago Tree was published here in Australia in 2015 by Odyssey Books. By then I was yearning to return to Lanzarote, but I had no one to travel with and the thought of that long journey alone just didn’t appeal. I kept posting about it on Facebook. Heaven knows what my friends must have been thinking at the time. ‘Oh, Isobel! Just get over it!’ One day, my publisher, Michelle Lovi, asked if she could come. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. She’d fallen in love with an island she’d never heard of before she read my book, and dearly wanted to see for herself. We went in February 2016. I cried on touch down. We were there for a far too short two and a half weeks. We stayed in an old farmhouse in the island’s north. I caught up with long lost friends who, unlike me, had never left. I also researched a sequel in the hope that I would return again soon.

While there, Michelle had the idea for a translation. Her mother is a Chilean-born translator, who was also enchanted with my book and excited to see it in Spanish. Inelda Lovi set to work, and, rather than sell the translation to a Spanish publisher, as is the norm, Odyssey Books decided to release it here in Australia. Penguin-Random House have just acquired a Spanish press for the same reason – to keep it all in their empire. Meanwhile, over here, Odyssey Books, a small press based in Canberra, Australia, are set to do the same. What a privilege it is for me! The sequel is due out in 2018, and is about to go into translation as well.

To see my words in Spanish is such an honour. I used to be almost fluent when I lived there, mostly because I had no English friends and interacted exclusively with the locals. If I had stayed, then I might even have written The Drago Tree, or a book like it, in Spanish first. I am grateful to Odyssey Books for their commitment to my work. 

4. You have written a number of novels. Is there anything about the novel writing process that still surprises you?

Every novel I write is a surprise. I’m not much of a plotter. I’m not a pantser either. Whatever I have conceived of for a story, once I have the main characters crafted and the bones of a plot, usually when I’m a couple of chapters into writing the first draft and I’m in the flow, out pops some new and exciting idea. Sometimes a minor character takes hold of the narrative. Other times it’s a theme. The thrill of writing for me is that I really don’t know what is going to happen next. I know where I want the story to end up, more or less, but getting there is always a bit of a mystery. I suppose that is why I cannot write crime. I’ve tried. I’m hopeless. The sequel to The Drago Tree is a mystery/suspense. It’s the closest I have got to proper plotting. Even then, a character took over the narrative. 

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

When I’m not writing I chat on the phone to my mum, interact on social media, read, stream British dramas, potter about the house and garden, play Mah Jong with my daughters—they’re twenty-five—visit my friends in far away places, dream of Lanzarote and stroke my cat. Do I sound awfully boring? Writing is relaxing for me. I love the creative process so much. I never tire of it. My problem is the opposite. I don’t want to be doing anything else, at all. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

That is such a hard question! I want a whole floor-to-ceiling bookcase, and I still wouldn’t be satisfied. My instinct is to go for a book with lots of pages, like War and Peace, a book with complexity, the sort that appears on set text lists at university. Then again, don’t I want a book to remind me of who I am, what I’ve been through and what lies ahead? A warm, supportive companion to guide me through the difficult times? A protagonist I can identify with? What book wouldn’t I tire of if it were all I had to read? I’m going for Toni Morrison’s Paradise. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

No one has ever asked me about the down side to writing, or rather, what it does to my body. I can answer by saying I have seemingly permanent RSI in both arms, and am prone to hip and leg pain due to two herniated discs, exacerbated by so much sitting! I work through the pain, even though I know I am damaging my body. That is the price I pay, and I am sure a lot of authors pay, especially as we age.

About the book

Haunted by demons past and present, geologist Ann Salter seeks sanctuary on the exotic island of Lanzarote. There she meets  charismatic author Richard Parry and indigenous potter Domingo and together they explore the island.

Ann’s encounters with the island’s hidden treasures becomes a journey deep inside herself as she struggles to understand who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.

Set against a panoramic backdrop of dramatic island landscapes and Spanish colonial history, The Drago Tree is an intriguing tale of betrayal, conquest and love in all its forms.

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