'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 12 August 2010

Author Interview: Isobelle Carmody

Kids Book Review is honoured to welcome acclaimed Australian author Isobelle Carmody today. Isobelle's latest book, the first in The Kingdom of the Lost series, entitled The Red Wind is now in stores (click here to find out more). Read on for some wonderfully honest insights into Isobelle's life as a writer...

Tell us a little about you: what’s your background, your story? I grew up in a family of eight. I was the eldest and my father died when I was fourteen, so I had a lot of responsibility. In some ways I had to play man of the house to my mum who was young, ill educated, timid and old fashioned enough to think there would always be a man around the house. She was not equal to what she had to cope with and I took up a lot of the slack.

I was a bossy older sister and I told my brothers and sisters stories, though that was more to control and contain them than to educate and illuminate them. We grew up with a mother who was always scared some authority would come along and pronounce her unfit as she believed she must be, and who would take her kids off her. So we grew up with this vague feeling that the world was a dangerous place and that all authority was inimical.

What genre do you write in? I do not think of genre when I write. Certainly there was no category called fantasy when I started to write. There was science fiction and there were fairy stories and even as a teen I would furtively ask for the latter. But that was as a reader.

As a writer, I write what I want to write and my mind moves to certain favorite tools as one's hand finds favorite tools in the kitchen. It is those tools that allow me to be categorised. I think categories are useful, but they are not the business of a writer.

What other genres have you written in? Works of mine have been absorbed or claimed by Graphic Novel genre, horror genre, fantasy genre, realism (which is also a genre, albeit rather a snobbish one) and fairy tale genre.

What do you love about writing for children? This is such a funny question - when I am asked it I always wonder if anyone ever asks Tim Winton if he writes for adults because he likes them.

Seriously though, the category of children’s writing is decided by the sellers of books, not by writers - not by me, anyway. I find myself inside a certain age character and that usually settles where you will end up being aimed. One rule of thumb I once heard which seemed true to me was that children’s books have children in them who grow, but they do not grow up. If a child grows up that is an adult book. A book like To Kill a Mockingbird is a very borderline case because while the children in it do not grow up, they grow so much that one could argue that they do grow up - the main character at least…

Why fantasy? I think because it offers an avenue for people to think about great philosophical issues. That is how it is for me anyway - I mean, that is why I am attracted to it as a reader. But if you mean why do I write it – I don’t. That is what is decided by editors and publishers and librarians and readers and maybe even by me, but only after it is finished.

From where do you draw inspiration for your fantasy stories? Like any writer, I get my inspiration from the world around me and my relationship to it and to other people, and epecially from the questions these things provoke in me. Writing is always an attempt to answer some question or another. I write in order to think.

Can you tell us about your latest book, The Red Wind? This is a book about two little creatures - brothers - that live on a barren plain. They live a very harsh tough life just trying to survive but they don’t see it as harsh – it is only the life they live and they get pleasure out of it. Then something terrible happens and they are forced to deal with things they have never dealt with before.

In the end they have to contemplate leaving their home, and setting off to find a new home - many of the thoughts behind the story come from my trying to imagine how it would be to be a refugee. To come away from home, which however harsh, was home and to go to a new place which may or may not welcome you. It is also an exploration of courage, which is a theme that continues to fascinate me and animate my work.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles you have experienced on your book-writing journey? Probably just getting enough time to go as deep as I want in my writing, and trying to handle the demands and pressures of being a successful writer. I have been very lucky as a writer, since my first book was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to, but I did not send it until it was the best I could make it and that took years. I think one of the greatest mistakes beginning writers make is that they think of publication when they should be thinking about writing the best thing they can write.

What’s a typical writing day? The best kind of day is when I can work for hours without a single distraction or interruption, knowing I have a whole two weeks like that in front of me. I can go deep and build up momentum. Other people wish for holidays, I wish for time out of my life to write…

What advice do you have on writing? Don’t choose a genre before you write, and don’t think of publication. Don’t write something that you think will sell or make people take you seriously or gain you attention. Write something that interests and intrigues and torments you. Write something about which you have many questions. Write in order to discover what is inside your idea. Do not think about publication.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be? Maybe an artist, given my abilities, though if I could be anything in the world, I might wish I were a doctor or a brilliant scientist or maybe a sailor.

What were your five favourite books as a child? The four Narnia books and Lord of the Rings and all the Dr Doolittle books and a book called The Ship that Flew and… well, you see how hard it is to name only a few…

What else do you like to do, other than write books? Read, go to the movies, listen to music, go to the ballet, go to the opera, eat out with friends and talk, walk by the sea, cross country ski, travel.

What would be your perfect day? Today - it was raining and the sky was black with clouds and the sea a luminous aqua edged in a radiant froth of white foam. I have a fire roaring away and I look out over the wet grass to the sea whenever I look up from my writing. I have my daughter with me but she is busy and absorbed with some day long project in her room. No one calls me on the phone and I don’t have internet in the house. I write all day, then walk on what my friends have dubbed Wuthering Beach, and then I cook dinner as I listen to Bach and then to a bit of an audio book. After answering your questions, I am going to take a cup of tea to bed and read the last bit of a book I am enjoying.

What five words best sum you up? Optimistic, imaginative, cheerful, intense, impatient.

What’s next for Isobelle Carmody? Hmmm I fly off to Perth on Saturday to do a week of daylong workshops, then I have one last night at home by the sea before I fly with my daughter back to Prague. I am only there two days before I fly to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Festival, then I fly to Athens. I have hired a villa on Santorini Island and I will be there for almost four weeks, writing. I can’t wait, as it is also the time during which there is a classical piano competition called The Muse, and you can attend the rehearsals and the heats free. Music, swimming, writing and a Greek island - what more could a girl want!?

Anything else you’d like to add? Nothing, except maybe that I am sorry some people are aggrieved that I take so long to get series like the Obernewtyn Chronicles finished. I am not an organized writer, but if I were, I guess I would have written different books… But I hope you will agree that the last Obernewtyn book was worth waiting for.

Find out more about Isobelle Carmody's work

Don't miss KBR's review of The Red Wind - coming soon!