Isobelle began the first of her highly acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles while she was still at high school and worked on it while completing a Bachelor of Arts and then a journalism cadetship. The first book was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to and went on to be short-listed in the Older Readers section of the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award for older readers. The series and her short stories have established her at the forefront of fantasy writing in Australia.
She has written many award winning short stories and books for young people since then. The Red Wind, the first book in The Kingdom of The Lost series which she also illustrated, won the CBC Book of the Year in 2011 in the Younger Readers’ Category and its sequel, The Cloud Road, was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Book in 2013.
Isobelle contributed to and edited a collection of short stories with Nan McNab, Tales From The Tower; Vol1 – The Wilful Eye & Vol 2 – The Wicked Wood, and she published an adult collection of short stories, Metro Winds, in May 2012.
Isobelle is currently working on The Red Queen, the final book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, and the screenplay for Greylands, on a Film Australia grant. She has also begun a PhD at the University of Queensland.
You started writing Obernewtyn when you were 14, and the final instalment, The Red Queen, is due for release this year. When you began did you ever imagine its huge impact and success and that you would still be working in that world in 2014? Is it hard to imagine it coming to end?
It will not come out this year, but I will certainly finish it this year. It is in some ways hard to bring it to a close because I love being in that world, but it feels right to be finishing it now. I mean, the story of Elspeth from her point of view is completed. In fact the book is largely finished but there are two areas that I want to extend a little. I can bear it only because I have already contracted the Beforetime Chronicles and in order to write this book, I have had to construct pretty much all that happened to Matthew, so that will be a stand alone book to accompany the others- I am pretty excited to look at Elspeth from the outside, actually. Of course I did not imagine writing it for so many years, but in a funny way, I have never felt like it has dragged out over decades either. It has felt right that it was in my life and that I have written portions of it as books, and now it feels right that it is coming to an end, too. The fantastic thing about Penguin is that though they have been under considerable pressure internally and externally, they have ultimately allowed me to unfold my story at my own pace, and that means a great deal to me. It means the final book will be the best I can make it
Your novel, Greylands, is being adapted for the big screen. How involved are you in the process? How have you found the experience, and has there been anything that has surprised you?
In some ways writing the script did interrupt other things, and for a long time I had resisted doing it at all. I had rejected offers from filmmakers to do scripts because I had never done it before and I feel it is a serious art. But the producer Tara (Morice) convinced me partly because she has such an intense and great vision or the film and a couple of things had happened that made me wonder if I should not try it. She got some funding and got a director and executive producer on board an they basically taught me to write the script – I can’t honestly think of a better way to learn than on a real project with a real director and producer and then with a film editor. I have found it a fascinating process and it has made me realise how much of a visual medium film is, compared to writing a novel, which is all about words. It may even be that the whole business of illustrating some of my writing enabled me to be interested in writing film – certain when I draw for books – when I am immersed in that- I really see the world differently. And of course in the end it all comes back to my writing – enriches it. Writing stories and books is, ultimately, my greatest love.
You’ve spent a great deal of time overseas. Do you feel this has impacted on your connection to the Australian scene? Have your travels changed the way you approach your writing?
It is good for a writer to move out of a comfort zone and travel has always done that for me. It displaces me and makes me alien and hence more perceptive, more aware- hyper aware – of the world around me, of how I mesh with it and of how it works. And of course there is endless material in it, that I would not have got if I had been that writer I long ago envisaged, living in my little hovel and writing away, not traveling, not seeing people. Mind you I sometimes dream of that wonderful solitude- that life with very little in it, where writing was like this great sea, filling me up.
Australian works – hm, well I have to stay most of my reading these days is connected to my Phd- it is all genre theory and literary theory … And I am reading a lot of Ursula le Guin because my Phd concerns her work. Right now, I am reading Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. But I reread some of Helen Garners’ stories, which I adore, and also Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus, over Christmas, when I was in the process of moving lock, stock and barrel from Prague to Brisbane, via Apollo Bay.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
They have not influenced how I work, because I am old school I did some interesting on line experimentation, and I started a blog I love, though I have not managed to post on it since i moved. But I will take it up again in September, and I will continue it as I have found it a very fruitful form for the writing of what amounts to photo essays. I might also do some publishing of stories online, so that people can download them directly from me, but that is sort of part of another really interesting project that will be unfolding next year, where a group of writers, starting with me, will actually write online so that people can log in and see it happening, if they like- that will be part of a data gathering process for a more ambitious project. But in the main, I will be writing, long hand, and then into my computer and being published by my publisher in the traditional way. Like I said. Old school.