Isobel Beech is going to take Australia by storm! With a background in copywriting, creative and internet news media, she is well versed in the book world. Her first book titled ‘How To Be Online and Also Be Happy’, was published in 2021. Her spectacular debut fiction called ‘Sunbathing’, has been published with Allen & Unwin this month (May, 2022).
Welcome Isobel and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be discussing your new novel and writing experience with you 😊💬
Isobel – wow congratulations on such a moving debut novel! How long has it been in your heart to write fiction? Have you always seen fiction in your writing journey?
Well, I only started doing writing stuff around ten years ago but the first few things I ever wrote were fiction because I was studying a Bachelor of Creative Writing at RMIT. A lot of the curriculum revolves around poetic and narrative-based writing techniques, so I suppose I learned how to write – or learned how I might someday want to write – with fiction.
I’ve done a fair bit of non-fiction writing since then for online and print media but fiction writing is just less of a pressure cooker I think. It’s so much more open-ended, so much more creative, you can really go wherever with it and say whatever needs to be said. And with it you can build the worlds you wish you lived in, or the worlds you wish you had access to. Like with Sunbathing, so much of the driving force behind the story there is about having a final conversation with a person you’ve already lost. That kind of closure you can only dream about. Writing this book gave me that.
The feeling of your writing style had me captivated from the very instant I started reading Sunbathing. That feeling of connection didn’t waver and had me finishing your novel in less than 48 hours. How long did it take you to plan, write and have Sunbathing published with Allen & Unwin?
Thank you! I’ve heard that people are finishing it quickly which I definitely take as a compliment; I love being able to read a book in a couple of days, I think it really helps to feel like you’ve been transported and lived it yourself.
And I didn’t plan the writing process at all really, I just began. I was at a writing residency in Italy and just wasn’t sure what to do with my time; I wasn’t feeling very motivated or like I had anything worthwhile to say at the time, so I just started writing some stuff down to pass the time. Things I saw that day, dreams I had, the smells and sounds around me. Then the document gained momentum and I began to find bits I liked in it that I wanted to interrogate more. And then I realised I wanted to bring the grief stuff into it – something I was kind of wading through at the time.
The writing of the first manuscript took around three weeks, then probably six months to sort out and edit and rearrange on my own. Which is remarkably quick for a novel, but I think I just had this spare time and was obviously really invested in telling this story and a lot of it wasn’t fiction – not the feelings or the essence of it – so it kind of tipped out of me. That was in 2019.
By the time I decided it was finished, I actually didn’t know if I wanted to share it with the world at all. Because it felt like a pretty big thing to write about and I was afraid of putting it out there, I guess. But I met with Kelly (from A&U) and we talked about how we saw the book and what it might mean to me or to others as a published thing and she just made the decision really easy. We edited it in 2021 between March and December, and so all up it was probably just under a two-year project.
So, quick to write and quick to read as it turns out.
I really enjoyed the namelessness of the main female character. She is one person healing from grief, yet she is many. She is one 21st century woman, yet she is many. Through this, I ultimately felt extremely connected to her. What does her namelessness mean to you in the story? Did you begin with a character name or was she always nameless?
She was and absolutely for that very reason. I’ve always enjoyed being able to step right into a character and I feel like the less information you’re given about them – particularly the superficial stuff – just makes that easier.
In the beginning she was genderless, too, and a lot the talk of ‘women’ and ‘men’ stuff included ideas and feelings on gender identity and how there’s so much outside of that binary and what that means for us and our relationships. But in the editing process I was convinced, and rightly so, that these ideas weren’t being given enough air time within the narrative to be doing them justice. So we culled that stuff and she became a she.
I think it works and is good, particularly for the function of her experiences as a daughter of a dad and what that means for their dynamic, but I’ll have to save the gender dysphoria for the next book.
What has the feeling been like for you, to walk into a bookstore and see your debut fiction novel on the shelf? Or turn on your social media to see your novel pictured, shared and reviewed with so much love?
It’s just a total smoothie of feelings right now! I feel lucky, confused, delighted, exposed. I had no idea what this time was going to be like but thinking about a few months ago, I realise I was being super pessimistic (my editor will attest to that). I just had this idea in my head that it was going to be really challenging, I guess because I’m writing about something that makes me feel vulnerable, and I was thinking I’d be having a hard time with it out there in the world, being consumed by people and commented on. But it’s just been the total opposite of that. It helps that people are saying really nice things about it, like I haven’t really been hit with any criticism yet so maybe ask me again then, but so far it’s felt like a really worthwhile thing to have done.
A friend said to me the other day, like, how great it is that somehow, this thing that used to cause me all this agony is now the source of all this solace and warmth, and that’s true. I’m suddenly associating this pretty painful thing with good feelings, with these incredibly meaningful conversations and connections. And that’s just the most beautiful, strange, incredible thing.
Thank you Isobel for sharing a piece of your time with me on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖