By Skye Jenner.
I first read one of Isobelle Carmody’s books when I was ten-years-old – actually, it was one of the first books that my Mum decided to lend me – Billy Thunder and the Night Gate. Ever since then, I have absolutely loved every story of hers that I have managed to get my hot little hands on. Which was why it was such an enjoyable pleasure to spend forty minutes in a skype interview with her. Not only finding out about what makes her writing so relatable to such a mass audience, but also the ways in which Australia’s refugee conditions are completely abysmal and the ways in which we can all step up in one way or another to fight for what’s right.
Isobelle wasn’t necessarily ‘inspired’ to become a writer, rather it was something that she just did as a young child to try and make sense of the world. At the age of fourteen, when Carmody began to write the first story in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, she was faced with a lot of confusion. Her dad had been killed in a car accident, and the drunk driver who had caused the accident just walked away. The process of writing somehow helped to “make it clear” in a way that nothing else was able to do so. She never expected to get published, or find a way to make a living out of her words. Rather, the creation of Isobelle’s worlds has come purely from finding a way to understand the world around her and process her own thoughts and emotions.
Isobelle primarily writes for a young adult audience because she loves the courage and “mad ignorance” which it lends to her characters. These thoughts and characters don’t occur “off the top of [her] head, but off the top of [her] fingers”. Being a writer for Isobelle is a completely natural and subconscious process which lends itself to an “alchemy of understanding”. From this, Carmody enjoys the conversations that begin between her words and the greater world – the different ways in which people are able to absorb and make sense of her own words, and sometimes how the readers can use these to understand their reality. I know that as a child, reading about a Misfit helped me to embrace my own misfit status.
Although nothing particularly inspired Isobelle to become a writer, it just is what she is, the act of publication and editing has been something of a different journey. According to Isobelle, writing is about what you have to say and make sense of your own reality. But editing and publishing is all about marketing. A good editor will judge you on how well you write, whereas a good publisher is good at marketing the work to a large audience. Both of which are important when you wish to make a career out of being a writer.
When Isobelle was fourteen, she was a Misfit, but she didn’t quite understand why. After all, she liked herself, but she couldn’t understand why other people didn’t. As is often the case, this misfit status led to her being severely bullied, which then led her to question why, continuously. Hence Elspeth was born (the main character in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, if you haven’t yet read this, I suggest that you do so… it’s amazing). Elspeth too likes who and what she is, has an inner strength and wears her heart on her sleeve. Much like Isobelle. She never wanted friends unless they could accept her for herself, which never seemed to be the case for teenage Carmody. And so the rest of the Misfits were born – people who were able to form accepting friendships, something that did eventually happen for Isobelle too.
Elspeth encaptured Isobelle’s “wish to be special and have a purpose”. Something that I’m sure we have all wished for at one point. The fact that everyone has felt a little lost and like a bit of a misfit at some point in their lives wasn’t something that Isobelle purposely tapped into. Neither is the constant message of strength and bravery throughout her pieces. It is something that she wrote “without realizing”. The idea that a strong sense of self and integrity can lend itself to a strong character wasn’t something that Isobelle had consciously considered, but it is certainly a recurrent theme throughout her works.
One of the things that struck out at me most in Isobelle’s response to this question was the idea of the characterization difference between genders. She is currently working on a character who is a young male. Carmody’s editors even requested that he be changed to a female. But she can’t. Because in Isobelle’s writing and creation, she can make boys somewhat softer. All of her female characters are insulated and withdrawn with an amazing internal strength. Something that is supported by their withdrawal from others and the world. Contrastingly, she is able to make her young male character less armoured – he is able to be more of the world than the women, something that certainly reminds me of the differences in the ways I conduct myself to my male companions….
As a child, Isobelle didn’t have much access to the outside world. There were no newspapers or magazines in the house, and her mother rarely went out. Actually, the only thing that Carmody really had to read were encyclopedias – and the only thing interesting enough to read were myths and legends. Something which she believed were true until she was a little older. Her only personal experiences that worked their way into her writing were internal, not external.
When Isobelle was about fourteen, she had to do a project on the Manhattan Project, something that changed her views on the world forever. Actually, if you have read her Obernewtyn Chronicles, you can see the heavy influence of this and her confusion throughout the entire series. It was actually something that personally taught me a lot about the risks and horrors that science and politics can cause, particularly the impacts of nuclear warfare. The idea of a scientific responsibility and conscience resonated throughout Isobelle’s sudden awakening to her own morality.
For those people who haven’t followed Isobelle on Facebook (I strongly suggest you do), it is obvious, from this early awakening, she has become very involved in and aware of the rights of others. This began because when Isobelle finally got Facebook she was shown some videos of the Bile Bears. Eventually, she couldn’t stand by and let this continue, so she began to get involved in their rights and animal activism. This has slowly snowballed and now you can see her standing with her sign across the world, raising awareness about our refugees and the plight of our fellow humans.
Isobelle’s number one piece of advice to people who want to become more involved in others’ rights is to “take one step”. If you have never done anything at all, sign a petition or write a letter. If you do this regularly, take it another step, organize something, hold up a sign. Start a movement. Just take your involvement one step further. That’s all that it takes and it is how it started for Isobelle. She started fundraising, and started by making small movements, and this slowly snowballed until she was recently threatened with arrest because she was holding her sign.
No matter how scary taking a step up might be, you can do it. When Isobelle returned to the place where she was threatened with arrest, she was shaking with fear. Although this fear didn’t quite go away, she was able to face up to it and feel stronger afterwards. Many people asked her questions and wanted to help her in some way and in doing so, she was able to not only stand up for herself, but also those without a voice. If you want to make your own sign and hold it up, tag Isobelle on social media – she wants to start a global movement, and has already started doing so, so let’s keep it rolling.
“If you can write stories, you should.” Isobelle’s number one piece of advice is to write the way you want and what you want. Don’t think about publishing or marketing until you have written what you want. Otherwise, you get a little too caught up in selling the manuscripts, not actually creating what you enjoy. Don’t think about the genre, the audience or where you will be able to sell your work. Concentrate on the writing.
Although Isobelle’s biggest piece of advice is making sure that you just write, she had another piece of really interesting advice that I had never thought of. She suggested that you try and get short stories published. It is much easier to get a short story published in a collection than a novel, especially in today’s climate. Once you have a few short stories published, you might be able to get noticed and get your name out there.
And Isobelle’s last piece of advice to aspiring writers – READ! If you don’t read much, you probably won’t write much. The two aspects feed on one another and are equally as important.