Isobelle Carmody Interview, 2017 Perth Oz Comic Con
So, last year I did an interview with the wonderful author, Isobelle Carmody at Oz Comic Con, which you can read here. But I felt that interview was a bit long and in-depth for anyone who hasn’t read any of her work before (my fault, because I’m such a huge fan of her work, and the publicist left us to it for a bit too long, but also Isobelle is much too fun to chat to!) So, I decided to follow that interview up with a slightly lighter one this year as Oz Comic Con… So, have a read to see what we got talking about this time around!
Appa the Gypsy: Welcome, Isobelle Carmody, back to Oz Comic Con in Perth in 2017. We’re very excited to have you back here.
Isobelle Carmody: I’m excited to be here.
AtG: Yes, I’ve been to both of your panels so far, although I didn’t get to watch the end of the one yesterday, but they’ve been fantastic to listen to. Especially the one with Kylie Chan today, that was very fun.
IC: Yeah, that was great, a really good panel.
AtG: Yeah, some really good questions in that one. So, first up, for the readers who don’t know much about you, can you just tell us a bit about your work and what you write?
IC: Okay, so I first started writing when I was fourteen, and I was writing a story about a girl who was a Misfit in a post-apocalyptic world (Obernewtyn). I was a misfit, strangely enough. My dad had died and I have to say that the death of a father or mother has to be something like a nuclear apocalypse in the life of a child. So, in a way, I was writing about my own inner feelings, and trying to fight my way to hope of some kind. And to some feeling that the world, and people, could be better, and so that’s what I carried into that book. And I think all of my work probably focuses around questions, I would say ethical questions. You know, why do people do the things that they do? What is courage? And I think fantasy, and science fiction to some extent, but particularly a blend of the two because of the questions I’m asking, make a really good medium to ask those questions in. I write realism to, and I tend to get stuck on reality. It’s the moment I step away from reality as a writer, that I seem to be most able to develop wings and to fly somewhere with a story. And it’s literally a physical feeling of the minute a character moves away from reality, does something that’s not in the real world, or sees something, or has some ability that they use, I just feel some lightness, and some sense of freedom come over me. And it just tells me that I’m using the right tools to write with.
AtG: Wow. That was a really good answer. Okay, so if you could step into the world of any one of your books, which world would you prefer to live in?
IC: Can I have a power?
AtG: Sure, of course.
IC: Okay, if I can have a power, then I would like to be in Alyzon Whitestarr’s world. Yes… Oh, actually, no maybe I’d like to be in Elspeth’s (from the Obernewtyn Chronicles) world, because I’d like the animal thing. She doesn’t have the animal thing… Oh, yes she does! Okay, yeah, Alyzon Whitestarr’s world.
AtG: Alyzon Whitestarr. Okay.
IC: Because it’s kind of now, but they have those abilities, which I would like to have… Something extra, I don’t know what it is.
AtG: A lot of authors like to say oh, not that world, that one’s too bad. I want this world, this one would be okay and I would actually survive in this world.
IC: I don’t think I’ve ever written anything where I… because usually there’s some struggling up from darkness. I don’t want to live in a world without hope. So I don’t create worlds without hope. I mean, there are lots of writers… like Sonya Hartnett, for instance. She’s a friend, and she writes really bleak, dark fiction. There is nothing hopeful in her world, everybody does horribly, and then the dog dies too. That’s Sonya’s world.
AtG: (surprised laugh). Wow.
IC: She’s a beautiful, exquisite writer. She really is the finest writer. However, it just kills me to read her books. I just can’t bear the depths she takes me to and then leaves me without hope. That’s how she sees the world, you know? There’s a truth for her in that, but that’s not my truth. And so, people will accuse me of being too idealistic, and I would say that’s how I live and that’s the world I see. You know, it’s not like I’m making it softer or prettier or better, it’s that I’m striving towards those things. So, that’s the world I see. And I think that’s the truth you have to offer as a writer.
AtG: Yeah, of course. Okay, do you have a character that you most enjoy, or find it easiest, to slip into the perspective of writing from?
IC: Maruman (from the Obernewtyn Chronicles)
IC: Yeah, very easy. And Crow, in the Little Fur series. But, it’s because they’re bad, and they’re grumpy, and they’re outrageous. They say anything that comes into their head. They’re actually wonderful characters, and they have deep love and deep loyalty, but they’re really grumpy. And I don’t ever show that. I don’t actually feel very grumpy, but I always feel like when I get in those characters I really enjoy the grumpiness. So, I think that’s why.
AtG: In the same vein, do you think you find that you enjoy writing villains much, or is that something you dislike?
IC: I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think I’m that good at it. For me, it’s very easy to say that person over there is to blame. I think this person here (points to self) is mostly to blame for everything. Meaning that we have to have responsibility. So, the villain is our feeling that we are not to blame. So that’s the villain in my stories. But sometimes you need, just for the way the plot works, that other aspect. And I find that that’s harder for me to write. Like battle scenes. I always want to do the build up to the battle scene, and then after the battle scene. But the actual battle scene, I’m not that interested in. I’m always forced to put that in (laughs).
AtG: Do you have a character from your stories that you think would fit in best in this crowd here at the convention?
IC: Yeah, someone from Alyzon Whitestarr would fit in, I think. Because it’s a modern world, and there’s the geeky kids. I think they could have a friend who would be the kind of kid would come here. I think Alyzon could come here. She wouldn’t be a natural person who came here, but one of her friends would, and might bring her here. And maybe in the book I’m now writing, my secret book, there’s a character I think would definitely be in a place like this. In fact I might even make him there.
IC: Now that you’ve mentioned it, that would be a good thing to do.
AtG: That would be very cool. Okay, if you had to say one sentence to a new reader to try and convince them to pick up your books, what would you tell them?
IC: That the most beautiful thing about human beings is that we strive, that we yearn, and I think that’s the best thing about us. Our best quality is our yearning to be better, to find better, to find beauty. And what yearning is, is if you look at you and the thing you want, instant gratification puts them together and there’s no yearning. But if you pull them apart, that’s the yearning, before you get what you want. That’s what my books are about. That’s not one sentence…
AtG: No! But it’s a good couple of sentences.
IC: But that’s it in a nutshell… It’s an Isobelle Carmody sentence.
AtG: Yes, it is! Okay, so do you find for your books that you do a lot of research when you’re writing?
IC: No. I’m a very idiosyncratic researcher. I mean, I look up sort of how do you make soap, because I feel a character needs to know that, or what do you make soap out of? For some reason I want to know it. So I Google it, and a bunch of websites come up and I get dragged away to this and that. So I do research, but I often get beautifully distracted while I’m researching.
AtG: Of course. What’s the strangest thing you’ve found yourself having to research?
IC: The strangest thing…? There are definitely strange things that I’ve researched… Well, death. How people bury the dead. How many ways are there that are legal for you to bury dead people? Or how can you deal with dead bodies in a way that’s legal, that isn’t putting them in the ground in a hole?
AtG: Wow. That’s a bit alarming.
IC: Yeah, that’s taken me three years to research that…
Jules (our photographer): No one’s ever knocked on your door about that?
IC: Not yet. I’m sure ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) has a file on me (laughs).
AtG: So, other than working as an author, what other types of jobs have you done in your lifetime?
IC: I’ve done journalism. I was a driver… I was a very bad driver, I ran over things all the time. And the reason the guy hired me, even though I kept banging his car into things was because he liked the conversation (laughs)… And, what else have I done… I’ve cooked, I’ve been a dishwasher. I haven’t really done much else in life except be a writer. Be a student! Sometimes be a student. Yeah, not much else.
AtG: Sure. Okay, one last question before we wrap up… Do you know much about Harry Potter?
AtG: Okay, good. I read this really interesting Sorting matrix, and it’s two questions you can answer to work out what House you would be sorted into at Hogwarts. Are you willing to do the test?
IC: Yes, I am.
AtG: Okay, so the first question is: Are you guided most in life by morals or by ethics?
AtG: Ethics, okay. And do you feel that you derive more satisfaction from external or internal validation?
AtG: Okay, so that would make you a Ravenclaw!
IC: That’s what I’d like to be… I think I am a Ravenclaw. Yes!
AtG: Well, there you go. I am also a Ravenclaw.
IC: I don’t know why, but I just… because of the bird, the raven thing…
AtG: Pretty cool. And Ravenclaws value knowledge!
IC: Really? Oh, so that’s me, yes.
AtG: There you go.
IC: Thank you for being my Sorting Hat!
AtG: (laughs) You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to chat to us today.
IC: My pleasure.
“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.”
You can find out more about Isobelle and her books online at http://www.isobellecarmody.net/
And for anyone who is interested in looking further into the Hogwarts Sorting matrix I mentioned in the interview, you can have a look at it here on the blog of S-Jae Jones, the author of Wintersong, which was released earlier this year. It’s super interesting, so I totally recommend checking it out. Most people find it to be reeeally accurate!