Hi Isabel, thank you so much for dropping by Romaniac HQ for a chat, it’s great to have you here. It must be a very busy time for you at the moment with the recent launch of your new novel ‘The Summer of 76’ – and how appropriate the weather has been for the most part!
Thanks for inviting me Sue. Sadly, I think the 2013 heatwave broke just short of the 1976 records … But still, hasn’t it been glorious – I know I’m certainly a much better person to be around when the sun’s shining!
If you had to sum up in one sentence what your new novel is about, what would you say?
Summer of ’76 is about a scandal in a small community, and the subsequent effect of family revelations on 17-year-old Luke Wolff during the ceaseless heatwave of 1976.
Your previous novel, ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ was set in the 1980’s, what inspired you to set ‘The Summer of 76’ in this particular year? Do you have any particularly poignant/striking memories from that year?
From the outset I knew this would be a book set in the summer of 1976, having developed an obsession with that year when I first started writing in earnest. I was only very young that year, but the extraordinary conditions seared themselves into my memory bank – the heat-baked scent of drying lawns; the rise and fall of honeysuckle; the slip-slap of flip-flops on boiled asphalt; the swarms of ladybirds. I grew up in a seaside village, and that summer, we swam at the beach every evening – a salty alternative to our usual baths, which had been restricted by the drought police!
Knowing this would be a book of revelation, of sexual revolution and rising tension, it seemed only fitting to set it in a summer so extreme that the emotional pot might just boil over.
You are part of Three Sussex Writers, together with Gabrielle Kimm and Jane Rusbridge – how did you all get together and what is it that keeps you together?
We all studied on the excellent MA for Creative Writing at University of Chichester – but not at the same time. I met Jane briefly as an associate lecturer during my studies, and Gaby later, at one of the university’s events. We found our debuts were all to be released within a year of each other. When mine, Glasshopper, was published, I contacted them both with the idea of joining forces for events, but also as a way of creating a supportive local writers’ network. It’s been hugely beneficial – we share new contacts and opportunities, compare notes, and have a lot of fun doing talks and workshops together. It’s a huge support to be part of a collaborative, generous trio – there’s always someone to chat to, and to laugh with when this writing lark gets a bit much!
I know you often post pictures of the local countryside and wildlife, can you tell us a bit more about your interest in this?
Walking is a vital part of my creative life, and the natural world feeds into my writing. I have a strong amateur’s interest in birds, so I can often be found wandering around the hills and beaches of West Sussex, with Charlie the border terrier at my feet and my eyes to the sky! Landscape provides such a powerful emotional backdrop to a story; when I’m walking frequently, rain or shine, it shows in my writing – and I’m a happier, healthier person.
It’s been lovely chatting with you Isabel, thanks for taking the time to drop by, I know how busy you are. Wishing you every success with ‘The Summer of 76’.
Isabel Ashdown is the author of three novels published by Myriad Editions: Glasshopper (London Evening Standard and Observer Best Books of the Year 2009) Hurry Up and Wait (Amazon Top Customer Reads 2011), Summer of ’76, and winner of the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition 2008.
In 2013, her essay on the subject of ‘voice’ will feature in Writing a First Novel, edited by Karen Stevens, in which novelists, agents and publishers discuss the joys and challenges of writing a first novel (Palgrave MacMillan).
Isabel writes from her West Sussex home which she shares with her husband, a carpenter, their two children, and a border terrier called Charlie. Find out more about her at www.isabelashdown.com , chat to her on facebook and twitter, or subscribe to her newsletter here.