Welcome to the blog, Isabelle! Could you tell us a little bit about your novel?
The novel is based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but adapted to the stressful, contemporary world where women not only have to deal with finding true love, they have to balance that with their personal career ambitions.
The main character in the novel is Alina, who appears to be a well-balanced, thirty-something woman with a successful career as a litigator and a humdrum but functional relationship. But when she suffers a serious setback at work, she crumbles and gets packed off to France to spend time with her sister. There, she makes new friends and comes face to face with her old flame, Will, which brings her to rethink some of the choices she made, or let other people make for her.
The novel focuses on Alina’s journey, but there are other women in the book who are just as important, women who have made choices in their life and reflect different possibilities back to Alina and to the reader. That theme, of making choices for yourself, and not for others, is at once universal and so very personal – it was an idea I really enjoyed exploring.
What led you to write a modern version of Persuasion?
Like so many other readers out there, I love Jane Austen. If you look past the period and the specific social context Austen was writing about, you see just how relevant her writing still is. Fundamentally, she’s writing about women in a position of relative privilege, but who are struggling to be themselves and to make their own decisions. I think this is particularly true in Persuasion. Anne Elliott has everything it takes to be a strong, independent woman but she lacks the courage to challenge her family environment and lets others make choices for her. What frustrated me about Persuasion, however, is that we never learn the truth about Anne’s first relationship with Captain Wentworth. Was it really true love? Was neither of them to blame for the relationship falling apart? It was that perspective that I wanted to explore in my novel through a series of flashbacks.
What is the most valuable lesson you learned about writing during the creation of this novel?
When I started out, I made up all sorts of rules to help myself get through the writing process. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t finish, or that I wouldn’t know where to take the novel once I’d gotten to a certain point. But one by one, I started dropping all my rules. They just didn’t work for me. So I didn’t plot out every chapter of the book (or any of them). I didn’t prepare long character biographies. I didn’t write every day. Mostly, I just let the novel carry me along (or drag me kicking and screaming on some days).
There was just one rule I ended up sticking to – on the days when I did sit down to write, I wouldn’t let myself get up again until I had written at least 1000 words. I found that was the best way to fight writer’s block. It’s easy to get stuck. It’s even easier to get dissatisfied, lose confidence, and give up. But if you have to write something, if you have to keep going, that’s when the characters do really take hold of you and something unexpected usually happens. Sometimes it’s fantastic. Sometimes it’s complete rubbish and you’ll have to delete it when you get to revisions. But that’s writing.
How did you choose Alina’s profession as a litigator?
I worked as a litigator for six years. So I chose to write about a world I know well. The law firm partners who lose track of what they’re doing this job for. The games of one-upmanship. The friendships that are formed when you’re in that kind of pressure-cooker environment. These are all things I experienced and some of my former colleagues may spot a few very familiar scenes in the novel.
But I also chose that profession for Alina because it’s the one that I feel is the most likely to alienate you from the people who love you. Litigation is a battle, it’s fierce and it requires complete denial of self. In that environment, there is no possible way Alina can flourish as a person unless she finds the strength to separate that part of her life from her own definition of herself. And in that way, she reminds me of Anne Elliott, whose own oppressive family life kept her from developing her own personality.
Do you have other novels in the works? Do you plan to experiment with other genres?
I’ve begun working on a cross between a novel and a collection of short stories. I started flirting with the idea after reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. My book will tell the story of one man through the individual stories of twelve people who cross his path during one day. I like the idea of challenging the typical narrative form – that’s one of the reasons why I ended up writing In the Past Imperfect through a series of flashbacks in reverse chronological order. But it has to make sense in the context of the story as well, otherwise you just end up confusing your reader!
Thanks for stopping by, Isabelle!
Isabelle, like her main character in Past Imperfect, grew up in one too many countries but feels most at home in Paris... or London... or New York - although currently she's hiding away somewhere in the Swiss Alps. She practices as an international lawyer and writes fiction as often as possible, whether at home or at the office.
Jane Austen has always been an inspiration (hence the homage to Persuasion). Her next book, however, is developing a far darker, less optimistic feel. While she waits to see what happens there, she's entertaining herself with a new blog that chronicles her adventures as a Kindle writer.
Isabelle can be found on http://100dayskindle.blogspot.com. Her novel has a Facebook page, too!