Friday, February 24, 2012

Isabel Wolff


“I thought what an odd environment it must be where you are being stared at, every square inch of you, by a complete stranger,” says Isabel Wolff, talking about her latest novel, The Very Picture of You

Isabel is not an artist, so interviewed six well known portrait painters at length. “I didn’t sit in on any sittings: I felt that would be too intrusive, but I spoke to them about the technical aspects.” She also had her portrait painted in order to experience the other side of the canvas. “I became fascinated by the relationship between artist and sitter. The intimacy of it and what is said in the sittings: the things that can be revealed as well as those that are hidden.”

Unlike many of her heroines, Isabel has not been jilted at the altar, lost her mother nor had a disappearing husband. But she believes that “novels are informed by who the writer is: their moral judgements about the world and their values and their understanding of human nature. I think that anyone who writes a good novel has to have a sharp eye and an understanding heart.” Isabel believes her earlier journalistic training helped her develop a sharp eye, and the rest of it comes from her own experiences.

Anyone who has read Isabel’s novels knows they are in for a good read. “I aim to write with a mix of poignancy and humour because we can all connect to that,” she says. “I hope my readers enjoy a page turning story with lots of twisty mysteries that takes them out of themselves for a while and they look forward to getting back into.” She looks up and smiles. “I hope they find them rewarding and amusing and think about the book afterwards - I also hope they are as well written as I can make them.”

Writing commercial fiction, Isabel says that the story is the main thing but finds the plot very hard to work out. “It’s like making a map of a place you’ve never been – you’ve got the general terrain but you want to put in the geographical detail and also little blind alleys and cul de sacs to lead the reader down and get them pleasurably lost. But you have to lay the clues properly.” She finds it’s like problem solving. “It’s like making a jigsaw puzzle – you make it then smash it up and the reader puts it together for themselves. It has to be hard to see the pattern but not so hard that they can’t do it.”

Isabel believes that, “The power of a good story well told is to move, entertain and uplift, that is the privilege. That isn’t about how many copies you sell - it’s about touching someone’s heart.”

Her many fans will be pleased to know that the novel she is currently writing, which will be out in 2013, is partly set in Cornwall. “It’s semi-historical like the last two, and has a slightly supernatural element.”

Isabel’s favourite parts of Cornwall are the Roseland Peninsula, and the Isles of Scilly. “All my earliest memories are of Cornwall: the excitement of getting up very early and driving down to Penzance, then the thrill of getting on the Scillonian to get to the beloved Isles of Scilly. “ She smiles as her children run around the garden. “It means so much to me now to be able to give my own children the kind of happiness that I had of Cornwall. It’s a place of intense longing and happiness.”

The Very Picture of You published by HarperCollins available now

Cornwall Today FEb 2012

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