Monday, September 20, 2010

Author Chat: Isla Morley (With a Giveaway)

I haven't done one of these in awhile, so I'm especially happy to welcome Isla Morley to BBB today. Her recently published debut, Come Sunday, has received a great deal of acclaim. She's a fascinating person, as you'll see in just a moment. Be sure to read all the way to the end, because that's where the real fun is - a giveaway!

Me: Hi Isla. Welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books.

IM: Hi Susan. Thanks for inviting me to your wonderful blog.

Me: Tell me a little about your path to becoming a writer. Did you enjoy reading and writingas a child? When did you decide you wanted to write a book? How did your work as an editor prepare you for writing your debut novel?

IM: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was the book that first captured my imagination as a child, and ever since I have loved to read. Not so with writing. In my teens, I really wantedto be that girl who kept a tell-all secret diary. But I kept losing interest after the third of fourth entry. When I worked on a magazine, writing was not all that much thrilling for me either. Bythe time I got married and came to the US, I’d pretty much decided writing was not for me. Ten years went by, and then the character of Abbe Deighton appeared to me one night with a story that needed telling. Subsequently, writing has become exciting and immensely fulfilling. Turns out, those editorial skills are in handy in the rewrites.

Me: You obviously have great empathy for the suffering of women and children. I assume thisis, at least partly, a result of your extensive non-profit work. What kind of impact did thoseexperiences have on your life? How do they influence your writing?

IM: The empathy extends to the downtrodden too, and I’ve had it since I was a little girl. Nobody in my family was surprised I was drawn to those organizations that seek to help others. I think a lot of it had to do with my upbringing in apartheid South Africa. At the age of five, I woke up one night to the sound of terrible screaming. My grandmother’s maid was in the garden, attacking her boyfriend with a whip. I’ve thought about her many times over the years and wondered what drove her to the point of violence, and then what pulled her back from the brink of madness the next day when she served us tea and toast. I’ve seen women suffer in terrible ways, and I’ve seen them turn their suffering into something good, something that benefits not only themselves, but others too. It’s this sacrificial element that inspires much of what I write.

Me: What causes are you passionate about now that you're a wife and mother living in urban America?

IM: I grew up in a society where prejudice and fear went unchecked. It was handed down from one generation to the next, and children were taught to be suspicious of those whose skin was of a different color, whose traditions were different, whose beliefs were different. What I want for my child, and for all children, really, is to live free of the tyranny of fear, and to respect and love others.

Me: COME SUNDAY has received a great deal of acclaim/award nominations, something that's quite unusual for a first novel. How do you feel about all the accolades and awards?

IM: I am completely in awe. Humbled, really. If the book receives a glowing review, I tend to think, “That’s nice, but I bet this reviewer gives everyone five stars.” But if it’s a harsh review,I think, “See, this proves I really should put the writing aside and take up macramé.” An award, like the Kafka Prize, really silences the critics in my head. More than anything, it is an affirmation, an encouraging “You can do this; keep going.”

Me: I loved the exotic settings in COME SUNDAY. I understand why some of the story needed to be set in South Africa, but why did you choose Hawaii for a secondary setting? What does that particular location add to the story?

IM: I lived in Honolulu for seven years, and it was there that I started writing this story. Most people are afforded such a limited view of Hawaii. It’s paradise, and so it’s hard to imagine anything bad happening there. But the story takes you deep into the valleys, literally and figuratively. South Africa, on the other hand, is usually viewed in terms of its ugly past, and its violence. It’s the antithesis of Hawaii in many ways, and yet it’s in the midst of this that the promise of resurrection lies.

Me: COME SUNDAY is about a mother's profound grief over losing her child. How did you channel that kind of pain into such an authentic portrayal of suffering?

IM: That’s a good question, and to this day I haven’t really come up with a good answer to it. “Channel” is exactly the right word, though. I would sit down at my computer and close my eyes, and Abbe would present herself. It would be her voice in my head, her heart beating in my chest. I felt like her story came through me, rather than from me.

Me: Ultimately, Abbe (the MC in COME SUNDAY) has to rebuild her faith/belief system, since whatever she thought she believed was shattered by the death of her daughter. Why is going home so often a necessary part of this healing process?

IM: The gift of suffering, in Abbe’s case, is that it cleared out everything that wasn’t authentic. Much of what was part of her life she had layered in, sort of as a way to cover up past traumas. All of that gets ripped aside and she is left with the gaping wound of her childhood. Going back to the place of her birth parallels her return to a very painful period of her past, which is her only hope of having old wounds healed. But I don’t know that I’d call it going home. As an expatriate, I have returned many times to South Africa and while in transit I always think of it as “going home.” And yet the minute I step foot off the plane, I feel more like a visitor. Home becomes something we carry within. Abbe’s journey is finding her home.

Me: How connected are you now to South Africa (your birthplace)? What did you enjoy most about growing up there? What do you miss?

IM: Both my parents died in the last few years, but I am now connected to the place through a brother I never knew I had. I also correspond with several friends and family friends with whom I am very close. But I am connected in other ways too, by memories, by language, by the land which somehow has knit itself to bone and sinew. I only have to open my mouth for South Africa to come pouring out. I grew up with a deep appreciation of nature. I miss the beauty of the country, the varied landscapes, the beaches, the wildlife. But I also grew up in a multicultural society with so many different artistic and musical expressions. I miss the slang, the satire and humor, African harmonizing, Saturday afternoon barbecues, my friends.

Me: What are you working on now? Will South Africa show up again in future novels? Please say yes :)

IM: It’s hard for me to discuss what I’m working on because I try to give myself permission to fail. This project may fly or it may end up in the compost pile, who knows. But I do want to write about South Africa again at some point, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm about this special location.

Me: Lastly, I ask this of every author I interview because I'm so fascinated by the variety of answers I receive. How do you write? Do you write every day or just when the muse comes to visit? Do you make meticulous outlines or start writing and see where it takes you? Where do you write? Where do you find ideas? Is there anything you have to have by your side in order to write (food, good luck charm, music, etc.)? What makes you, as a novelist, unique from other writers?

IM: I write (or rewrite) every day, after my daughter leaves for school (in summer, all writing therefore comes to a grinding halt). Instead of a muse, for me there is a great, invisible river running above my head, and when I sit down to write, it’s like sticking my finger in the current and letting the energy travel through me and out onto the page. If I want to interrupt the flow of creativity, all I have to do is start working on an outline! I wrote Come Sunday in a closet, and I now write by hand at the patio table on the deck that overlooks the mountains. I am not superstitious, but I can’t seem to part with a little crystal a friend gave me several years ago which is supposed to have good writing juju. I usually say a silent prayer before I start writing. I don’t know what makes me unique. I would say that if I am any good at writing it must be because I have so much in common with other people.

Me: Thanks so much, Isla!

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What did I tell you? Fascinating, right? Okay, now, if you want your very own copy of Come Sunday, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what you miss/love most about the city/country/state where you were born. Easy. The book will be shipped by the publisher - therefore, this contest is not open internationally (U.S. and Canada only). Sorry about that. I will randomly select a winner on September 30. Good luck!

3 comments:

  1. My hometown is one of those "small town America" places where you didn't need to lock your car, or even your house. I miss that love and trust that existed between neighbors back in the 40s and 50s. Time marches on, but is it really progress?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I live in North Carolina & love it because it has a little bit of everything...mountains, beaches, mild climate & VERY friendly people!
    Please enter me, thanks.

    ruthiekb72@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. What I love most about the city where I was born was how easy it was to get wherever I needed to go. I don't mean that everything was close together, but the public transportation was just so good that most people didn't even have cars.
    iii.141592653589793238462643383[at]gmail[dot]com

    ReplyDelete

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