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Sunday 24 September 2017

PAVLOVA PALAVER - an interview with Isabella May

Today my guest is fellow-author Isabella May, whose debut novel Oh! What A Pavlova! will be published by Crooked Cat Books on Tuesday 3 October.

Welcome, Isabella!

Thanks for inviting me to appear on your blog today, Sue!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I have been scribbling and verbalizing in one way or another for as long as I can remember. As a young child I would invent stories (along with my little sister) about people we knew… as well as fictional characters, who would randomly jump into the mix to spice things up – Worzel Gummidge, Aunt Sally and Emu to name a few. They would usually trail behind us in our hire car on holidays in Portugal and Cyprus – I know; I was a little bit ‘kooky’ to say the least! 

And when I wasn’t doing that I was penning equally random and daft tales about the neighbours on our street, together with very amateur felt-tip illustrations. Thankfully my story-telling abilities have moved up several notches, even if my artistry hasn’t.

English lessons at high school were never creative enough for my liking though; we were usually heads down and glued to Othello, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, desperately trying to stay awake; our own creativity hampered by words which felt quite meaningless to us at that age. No wonder I started to entertain my friends by surreptitiously passing around folded paper concertinas of the game Consequences… until that was we got caught.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Okay, are you ready? It’s quite a different premise for a novel…
Cake meets domestic violence, travel, spirituality, comedy, and a bid for freedom in the arms of many an unsuitable man… all set against the backdrop of the weird and wonderful characters of the publishing industry.

What was the inspiration for this book?

A burning desire to dispel the misconception that an abusive relationship is abusive all the time: it is not. But I also wanted to portray a very honest picture of the way D.V can splinter the victim’s life. Quite often they are leading a double life, their outer fa├žade so astonishingly different to the unthinkable acts they are tolerating behind closed doors. Ultimately though, I wanted to create a story with a very different message; a message of empowerment for any woman or man who is currently feeling anything but strong.

Did you do any research for the book?

Yes. Although I have been to most of the twenty-two destinations which feature in the book, a couple of locations are brand new to me, so I had to read a fair bit about them to get a feel for them. And then to reinvigorate my memory with the sights, sounds and smells of the more familiar places, I turned to Pinterest, which is fantastic for evoking emotion and atmosphere (as well as procrastination!) 

And of course, there was a lot of reading to do on the subject of abuse – not so pretty, but essential for furthering my own personal understanding, and so I could tell a more comprehensive story.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

Honestly, with two children whose school days are very short (we live in Spain), and whose holidays are ever longer, it’s impossible to have a standard writing day. So I have learnt to be the Queen of Multitasking. 

Somehow it works. I set myself targets of say 1000 words a day – which has the added bonus of helping me produce *mostly* quality over quantity, and see where the wind takes me. I am also a ‘Dance Mum’ and find I get an inordinate amount of dialogue penned whilst devouring Rhubarb Crujiente Cake at one of the yummy cafes near my daughter’s dance studio.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Oh, the character names in this novel have each changed more than half a dozen times. Then again, it is a book that was several years in the making! My second novel (currently being perused by my publishers) was so much easier. The names seemed to magically float into my head from an invisible Idea Cloud and they have stuck ever since.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

With Oh! What a Pavlova, I wrote whatever I felt inspired to write at any given moment. On a day full of elephant grey skies, I’d tackle a dark scene. On a sunny and uplifting day, I’d write something satirical. Often this was whilst feeding my baby. I think the current term for this lack of planning among authors is ‘being a pantser’. But I’m just not a spreadsheet kind of girl. Post-It notes, brainstorming in copious amounts of notebooks, and waking in the night with a sudden idea that I must transfer to paper immediately, are much more my style. And I can rarely write in chapter order. I’m very naughty like that and unintentionally defy all the Writing Rules we are taught from the beginning.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Pam Grout, Julian Fellowes, Jonas Jonasson and Marian Keyes in terms of wit and satire coupled with lovely language; Nigella Lawson in terms of writing unnecessarily long but poetic and mouthwatering sentences, and Joanne Harris, just for being all-round excellent at her craft.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

Hours of creativity (with coffee and cake to hand) is undoubtedly the best part of the job. I am lucky because I live right on the beach, so add a stunning sea view to that and you really do have the dreamy writers’ life.
But then reality bites… and you have to market that book. Gone are the days when this was solely a publishing house’s responsibility. So out comes the Author Hat and you just get on with it. But I try to make it as fun as possible by focusing on the aspects of marketing that I most enjoy.

Now the book is about to be published, how do you feel?

It’s been so long coming and I’ve visualized it for so many years that it does actually feel quite normal – not in a complacent way, but a good way. My self-belief wouldn’t have been ready before, but now it is, and I think that’s really important, especially in light of the amount of PR we have to engage in. 

Sue, I recall you recently saying something along the lines of ‘Modesty is no friend of an author’. And it really does resonate. You have to have a certain level of confidence (without bragging or shoving your novel down everybody’s throat, of course!). On the other hand, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little excited and nervous in equal measure. I am!

Is there a message for the reader? What do you hope they will get from one of your books?

All of my books have an integral message: you are far more in control of your life than you have ever realized, especially when you let the Universe lead the dance. But hopefully I say this in a subtle way. There is also nothing worse than a Preaching Fairy Godmother…

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Let the unhelpful criticism go in one ear and straight out the other - and you will soon learn the difference between the unnecessary and constructive critique. I recall reading my very unpolished first chapter at a local writers’ group, hands twitching nervously, only for two slightly Older Dears to claim: ‘It’s rubbish… I’d throw it in the bin!’ On the other hand, these kinds of comments will often become rocket fuel to damn well finish and perfect your novel and get it out there!

What can we expect from you in the future?

My second book contains a lot of unconventional cocktails, some more travel – but this time the action centres around Glastonbury, Mexico and Prague, a rather ridiculous love triangle, two sisters who have fallen out over their allegiance to Sting, more jump-off-the-page characters, and another magical thread weaving through it all.

And book three is already swirling nicely in my head. One thing is for sure with that one: there will be Churros!

Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. When she isn’t having her cake and eating it, sampling a new cocktail on the beach, or ferrying her children to and from after-school activities, she can usually be found writing.

As a Co-founder and a former contributing writer for the popular online women’s magazine,
The Glass House Girls, she has also been lucky enough to subject the digital world to her other favourite pastimes, travel, the Law of Attraction, and Prince (The Purple One).

She has recently become a Book Fairy, and is having lots of fun with her imaginative 'drops'!

Oh! What a Pavlova is her debut novel... and her second novel has already been submitted to her publishers: watch this space...
You can follow Isabella May on her website and social media here:
Twitter - @IsabellaMayBks
Instagram - @isabella_may_author

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