Author Interview with Isobelle Carmody

At the start of April I was very pleased to announce to my staff that we were interviewing the lovely Isobelle Carmody author of The Little Fur series, The Legendsong Saga, The Gateway Trilogy and Obernewtyn Chronicles as well as countless others. All of which as firm staff favourites to read and recommend.

As Neek, a TLC staff member (or Isobelle’s biggest fan – cue nervous laughter and manic devotion), put it:

Isobelle Carmody’s writing it is like a smorgasbord of greatness with a side of fantastic, drizzled with some awesome sauce.

After calming the staff down and managing to get all of them breathing normally again, I was barraged with many suggestions of questions to ask her, MANY questions. First and foremost was “Tell us what happens in the next Obernewtyn book! Well, I am happy to say, we do get a tantalising glimpse… but more so we get an understanding into why Isobelle loves to write, her relationship with her characters and what a passionate author she is.

Thank you very much Isobelle for being interviewed, and sharing your passion with us.


You’re one of Australia’s favourite fantasy authors – what is it about this genre that you love?

I think I see in it what most people do, as a reader and writer. It allows me to step outside the constraints of everyday life where we have to hang the washing and do our wretched tax and argue with some official over something and shop for dinner and buy band aids and Drano and washing powder. Not in order to escape vacuously, as is often the perception, but in order to think about things that matter to me. Like what it means to have free will and yet to co exist with others who also have free will that might infringe upon mine; about why some people are cruel and why some are courageous; about how it is that someone grows up to be Mother Teresa while someone else become Hitler; it is about what makes a person able to sacrifice themselves for others; about what is required of me if I want to be a friend to someone; about what the difference is between a human who is cruel and the cruelty of a cat to a mouse it has caught; about how important powerful people can make decision that a child can see will cause great harm, as if they and their children were going to be exempt from the consequences. In a way, it I like dreaming – a way and a space to deal with all of the thoughts and puzzles and conundrum that arise from that everyday life, only unlike dreaming, you are fully conscious. I guess that is the best way to put it. Writing fantasy is like conscious dreaming.

Isobelle, we literally have hundreds of fans of your writing eagerly awaiting your next book, just from our little shop. Does that translate into a lot of pressure for you when you’re writing?

carmody obernewtynAbsolutely. It is the publishers who put the pressure on, of course, though probably more for their own economic reasons than anything else. But I certainly feel it whenever I am anywhere in public. For instance I was recently signing books at Supanova in Melbourne and there were literally hundreds of people asking when the next Obernewtyn book was coming and if I was ever going to write Darkbane or the last Billy Thunder book. But I never feel bad about that pressure because I truly work as hard as I can so the delays are not because I am slacking off, and in a way it is satisfying to be able to tell people to their faces what I am doing and why.

What’s the most difficult part of being a writer?

Odd as it sounds, sometimes the sitting and typing for hours. I get really sore elbows and back. I get physically bored. You are supposed to get up and move around every twenty minutes or something but I am so engrossed that I never do. Then I pay for it. There is no real downside other than that. I love what I do and I even love it when the going get tough. I love being demanded of by the story and I love conquering the problems. Sometimes when the next round of editing comes, my heart sinks a little, but it never seems to be that hard to re engage a story – even a huge one. I think that is because I write what I want and so it is never just pounding out words to meet a deadline or a word limit. I am always inside what I write. It always matters to me.

You write short stories, picture books, series for younger readers (I love Little Fur!), young adult and fantasy. Which do you enjoy the most? Do you have a pet favourite?

I think my best writing overall is in short stories, other than in Greylands, which I wrote like a short story. In a way they are the hardest thing to write because there is a very intense focus on them and you can never forget the form. Picture books are never quite easy for me, either, though having said that my favourite picture book is Journey from the Center to the Earth and I love that story. I love reading it aloud to kids and Marc Mc Bride’s pictures are fabulous. What I really enjoy most these days is being able to draw as well as to write. That started with the Little Fur book, and they are very special to me. And of course now The Red Wind and the next two books in that series are waiting for me. Both sets of characters in those books come very much from stories I made up for my daughter and so they are full of us and our lives, which again make them special. Strange as it sounds, going back to what I said right at the start, they come from things that are happening in the world around me. About my relationship to the world. Writing lets me think about it. For me, to write is to think.little fur

In regards to Obernewtyn: These characters have been around for quite some time now, and I know many of our readers feel like they are visiting old friends when they read and reread the series. When you write do you get the same feeling? 

Absolutely! My dear editor said recently that she was not sure she liked Dameon and I defended him as ferociously as if he were my best friend. I mean how could anyone not like Dameon?! Re entering that world is like slipping on a favorite coat. I love the feel and familiarity of it, and the questions it was asking when I was 14 are still really important to me- in a larger sense, is it possible for human beings as a race to grow morally and ethically; in a more personal sense- what do we gain and lose as individuals when we chose to become part of a group or give ourselves to the ideals of a cause?

So come on, dish, who’s your favourite character? Or if you can’t choose, who is the easiest to write?

Favourite character? Hm. Well I love writing Elspeth when she is sharp and terse because I’m not often like that. I love the rudeness of the Crow and the sorrow of Sorrow. I guess I really liked all of the Little Fur character because of their voices- I loved doing the audio CD of them for Bolinda SO much. I have just finished recording The Red Wind, red windtoo, and in that loved the voice of the monster. One of the easiest characters to write was Alyzon Whitestarr. I’d love to go back into her again. But no, I can’t pick one favourite. It’s like the one I am in at the moment is the most interesting and engrossing, and that is Elspeth, of course.

It seems like you put a lot of thought into naming your characters and landscapes, what’s your inspiration for all these names?

The names have to have the right feel. They had to resonate to the characters character. They have to have meaningful poetry.

Which question are you most sick of answering in interviews?

Anything about my childhood unless it is a very specific question, then I like it because sometimes it lets me remember something I had not thought about. Someone recently asked for my first memory and that provoked some fascinating thoughts

What book(s) are you reading now?

Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World, Sebastian Faulks One Day in December and Haruki Murakami’s interviews with victims of the Sarin Gas attack on the Tokyo underground. Utterly riveting mostly for the difference in how the Japanese react to disaster in their midst as compared with how we or American would act. And of course it is reiterated by how they are reacting to the current disaster. For me it is especially interesting because in the final Obernewtyn book, Elspeth deals with a people who are ancestors/survivors of Asians, and the book is very much drawing on my reflections.

Please, please, please taunt us with a titbit of information from your new book The Sending, the 6th book in the Obernewtyn series, due out September 2011.

Hmm didn’t I just do that in the last answer? Ok, we will meet Straaka’s brother in The Sending and he has a really interesting character arc. That’s it. Hope you enjoy the next book and that you feel it has been worth waiting for!

Want to no more about the Obernewtyn series? Go here

More about Isobelle? Go here

Tanya Caunce for TLC Books


3 Comments on “Author Interview with Isobelle Carmody”

  1. […] Here to have a read the interview with TLC Books. © 2011Isobelle Carmody Powered by […]

  2. […] In an interview on TLC Books you talked about fantasy as a genre. You describe fantasy as ‘conscious dreaming’. You say […]

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