Finding my Author Identity: A Story of Alienation and Belonging

How many authors struggle with finding their literary identity? Some know exactly who they are and what they want to write and it never enters their mind to deviate. Others struggle to find their way. My story should be a warning to budding writers. It’s far better to have things all figured out in advance. Here’s my story.

It was early in 2009 when I first thought to write creatively. I’d already composed a memoir of the life I was leading then, a work since shelved. When that little seed of inspiration germinated in my awareness I was transported instantly to one of my former homes: The Canary Islands, Spain. A powerful, all-consuming energy filled me. I didn’t know what to make of it, other than that I knew it would radically change my life. By July that same year I’d left my home, my broken marriage, my friends, my whole life to chase this dream, this insatiable desire. I fled to Melbourne. It took many months to orient myself. I had no idea what I wanted to write.

In 2010, under the intensive gaze of my literary mentor, I wrote another memoir, Lovesick, which I self-published in 2011. Lovesick captures a decade of my life spent as one of Thatcher’s have-nots. Sex, drugs and rock and roll in the 1980s with about a third of the story set in the Canary Islands. With Lovesick written I turned my hand to short stories. An independent student for many decades (I even undertook my PhD by distance ed) I gleaned what I needed online, read Alice Munro and slaved over every word. When ready, I submitted to literary journals. Only one was published, in the USA. Two were shortlisted and I received some very nice rejections along the way. Eventually Ginninderra Press published all eight in 2012. It felt like progress.

#TheDragoTree - a tragi-comic love story set on the island idyll of Lanzarote. Literary fiction at it's most entertaining. "Held together with a mouth watering descriptions of the landscape and history."

At the end of 2012 I embarked on my first novel, The Drago Tree, a literary love story set in the Canary Islands. I drew on every skill I had. It was then that I realised my literary voice was distinctly British or European. I began to feel uneasy. Voice is everything. How would a British voice be received by the Australian publishing industry? In 2014, I submitted The Drago Tree to every publisher in Australia. It was demoralising. Most didn’t reply. I was thinking, should I emigrate? Then, in January 2015, Odyssey Books made me an offer. They were a tiny small press back then but what did I care? I leapt at the chance. It was my big break. Luck, at last! I was set.

Meanwhile, I’d already begun another three novels, each distinct. Little did I know the crisis that loomed as a result. For me, back then, all my stories were literary fiction or general fiction. It was only after The Drago Tree was published and book reviewers were asking me what genre it fell into that I started to cotton on to the importance of these literary categories. Until then, I thought I could bypass the genres and exist in a literary fiction bubble. Not, it turns out, if I wanted to sell more than a handful of copies of my books. Suddenly, writing became all about genres and markets. An author needs to be a social media wiz, have a strong online presence, and preferably write a series in a single genre. It’s Creative Writing 101. But I’m self-taught, and this was the gap in my knowledge.

A Perfect Square - a dark mystery, literary fiction style. Where art and creativity meets the occult and conspiracy theories. When synaesthesia becomes clairvoyant. A must read for all lovers of rich and complex fiction

My aspirations came crashing down in August 2016 when I launched my little literary masterpiece, A Perfect Square, a work I’d poured my heart and soul into, actioning a huge amount of pre-release promotion, including co-opting my musical genius daughter to write the music to go with it. see https://isobelblackthorn.com/a-perfect-square/  We launched the book and music together at a café in Melbourne. That day, the city suffered a tempest. Almost no one ventured out. Only ten people made it to the launch, with a few stragglers arriving at the end of the event because they got the time wrong. I went home demoralised. Reality soccer punched me and I landed on the harsh, immutable  concrete of the modern fiction scene with a thump.

That’s when I started to take the genres seriously. I was already at work on a mystery set in my beloved Canary Islands, a work that was giving me gip. All the while I kept asking, what sort of author am I? Where do I belong?

 

In 2017, I had another lucky break when a small press, based in the USA, offered to published my dark psychological thriller, The Cabin Sessions, which I’d written thinking it was horror. On the strength of that delusion and that offer, I thought horror was my thing and proceeded to write a second novel, The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. HellBound Books have since released both titles and I’ve been networking in the horror scene ever since. But through HellBound Books, I have come to realise my writing is not horror. It’s more Noir, or dark fiction, but definitely not horror. Yikes!

So where does that leave me? I need an author identity to hold all my writing together. I can’t keep starting afresh with each new book, hoping it will attract readers. Like all authors, I need a following of loyal readers. That same year, I started shooting arrows into the dark, trying out different pathways trying to build a career. Drawing on my past life as a teacher, I delivered a creative writing course for domestic violence survivors. I applied for a creative writing fellowship with the National Library of Australia, for which I was shortlisted. I applied for, and secured, a mentorship to co-edit the Australasian Horror Writers Association magazine. I applied for travel funding for a new work, which I didn’t get. I thought if I shook the door hard enough, someone would let me in and then I would know who I was as an author. JK Rowling never had this trouble. It all seemed horribly unfair. Was I, am I, my own worst enemy?

Now, in 2018, it feels as though the forces of progress are against me, as though I’ve entered a dark phase, one of retreat and incubation. I have eight works in progress on my desk. There’s a noir thriller, the mystery set in the Canary Islands two and a half years in the making, a fictional biography of an occultist which I regard as my opus (it’s based on my PhD), and various other works, many gothic, most literary. What do all these works say about me? Should I answer in the negative and say I’m not a horror writer, I’m not a crime writer … How bleak! I want to say I won’t be pigeonholed. But I also want to say finding my author identity has proven astonishingly difficult and has evoked deep feelings of alienation. If I can’t find my literary home here in Australia, then do I even belong here at all?

I’ll end on a positive. There are two essentials readers can expect from me: I write about the occult and my favourite setting is the Canary Islands. The two are not mutually exclusive.

 

 

 

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The Drago Tree review to make my day!

Sometimes reviews are long and detailed and demonstrate a deep engagement with the story. Other times they are short and sweet, but the engagement is still present, in the words the reviewer chooses to convey how they feel. Which is why I am thrilled to share this review, just in via NetGalley, of The Drago Tree, my literary love story set on Lanzarote. Really, reviews don’t come any better than this!

 

 

You will find The Drago Tree in paperback and e-book formats worldwide in both English and Spanish. Here’s one of many bookstores:

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Drago-Tree/9781922200365

Talking Location on Trip Fiction

Here in Australia it’s Mother’s Day. UK based Trip Fiction would probably not have known that. So when they published on their blog my piece on Lanzarote, they couldn’t have known how significant the timing was for me.

I left Lanzarote in 1990. My daughters were born in 1991. They exist because I left the island that had captured my heart, my mind, my soul in a way nowhere else has. When I left, I had no intention of doing anything other than going back. Then everything went wrong and I ended up in Australia, reuniting with my mum who I hadn’t seen for 9 years. A new chapter of my life began, one centred on my mum, and those two girls of mine.

I’m saving for my next visit to my favourite little island. Meanwhile, a big thank you to Trip Fiction for including my piece on their wonderful innovative site, which is dedicated to travel fiction and stories set in interesting locations. Here’s the link to my piece – http://www.tripfiction.com/chatting-lanzarote-author-isobel-blackthorn/  While you are there, you might want to check out the site.

You can read more about my novel The Drago Tree here

and read a lovely thoughtful review by Nada Adel Sobhi  here

 

The Drago Tree – review by Juliet Butler

It’s getting on for two years since The Drago Tree was released by Odyssey Books. Reviews still trickle in and feedback is always warm, sometimes glowing. My publisher is so passionate about the story they have arranged for it to be translated into Spanish, and are releasing it themselves in Australia and worldwide in August. Bucking the trend to release translations using the same cover, Odyssey Books are also investing in a brand new cover which I’m itching to see. I feel privileged and can’t wait to hold the Spanish version in my hands.

 

Meanwhile, this short and sweet review came in via NetGalley and I thought I would share it here for all to see.

“A beautifully written book. The author managed to capture the essence of Lanzarote, its cafes, markets, and rugged landscape. I thought the characters were well developed and their stories pulled you into the narrative. An engaging and thoughtful read.” – Juliet Butler, NetGalley

Thank you Juliet!

You can read more reviews here.  And you can purchase a copy here on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Drago-Tree-Isobel-Blackthorn/dp/1922200360

The Drago Tree for a travelling book junkie

The world of book blogging is an amazing place sometimes. You just never know what might be happening in that vast tribe of dedicated book lovers, who give hours of every day to supporting authors and readers alike. Where would we be if we had to rely exclusively on print media and high end literary reviews? Only the select few works, those tipped for prizes maybe, would get attention.

So it was amazing to receive a message on Facebook this morning from a dedicated book blogging soul, informing me that my novel, The Drago Tree, appears in a list of works set in the Canary Islands.

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“Sometimes, even the fictional works which loosely base a storyline on a location can inspire wanderlust in a person far more than any editorial piece could.  Perhaps it is the in-depth descriptions that entice people to book a flight – I know for a fact, that I have been known to book a trip off the back of a book I have read. ” – http://www.travellingbookjunkie.com/14-fictional-works-canary-islands/

Thank you so much for thinking of my book!!!

You can buy a copy of The Drago Tree on Amazon

A Spanish edition of The Drago Tree is on its way!

I’m thrilled to announce I’ve just signed the contract for a Spanish edition of The Drago Tree, to be released by Odyssey Books in 2017!

¡Estoy entusiasmada de anunciar que he firmado el contrato por una edición española de la novela, El Árbol Drago!

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It’s an auspicious moment. I wrote the story with Pedro Almodovar’s movies running through my mind. I also had the rich history of Lanzarote and its incredible landscapes ever present inside me. I wanted to gift something to the island that had given something to me, a sense of place like no other I have experienced. The volcanos, the lava, the cuboid buildings, the sapphire ocean, the astonishing views, Lanzarote is an island to be treasured.

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I’m not the only one to think so. Sections of the local government have pitted themselves against their Spanish counterparts on environmental issues, not least the drilling for oil off the island’s pristine coast. A David and Goliath battle, but when it came to drilling rights, the local authorities won, thanks to the efforts of activists and tourists alike, and the Spanish government backed down.

Seeing my words in another language brings a thrill of excitement. Now at last The Drago Tree will be available to a whole cohort of Spanish readers. I so hope they like it!

Lovesick re-released!

My memoir, Lovesick, came out in 2011 to popular acclaim. I decided to re-release the book and give it a new lease of life after a friend and high school teacher told me he thought it should be much more widely read.

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A wild adventure through Thatcher’s Britain, set against a backdrop of the British Indie Music Scene. Naïve, defiant and incisively witty, Isobel Blackthorn fashions her own path through the counter-culture, poverty and politics of the eighties. By turn absurdly funny, sexually charged and heartrendingly sad, Lovesick is an unforgettable, tragi-comic tale of a young woman’s search for her identity.

Pretty girl, nice smile is all Isobel can say about herself. That, and she’s working class. What matters to her is she’s different. After devouring Camus’ The Outsider she realises for reasons strange to her, she is strange to the world. And she’s searching for love. It’s a disastrous mix. Her unquenchable need for romance leads her to Lanzarote, Canary Islands, were she takes unconventionality to extremes. She’d determined to be truly herself, face her fears and go with the flow. But her obsession with the charismatic Miguel, her thirst for danger and an acquired taste for cocaine launch her into the island’s criminal underworld.

“Seen through the eyes of a woman of heart and mind, this is a story that takes the reader on a tempestuous journey through the music and politics, the frenzies and phobias of Thatcher’s England in the 1980s. The passions of the era are enacted in Isobel Blackthorn’s headlong pursuit of love and sexual fulfilment, leading her eventually to the fabled beauty of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, a type of anti-England. The hedonism Isobel ‘adopts’ on Lanzarote as a corrective to the bleak outcomes of her political commitment and her quest for love take in, unavailingly, free-wheeling experiments with a smorgasbord of drugs. What shines through in these pages is Isobel Blackthorn’s determination, despite setbacks and episodes of despair, to engage with life truthfully. ” Robert Hillman, The Honey Thief

Here’s a trailer created by the late songsmith and troubadour Alex Legg (1952-2014)

Available in e-book format from Amazon  and Smashwords