Ishbelle Bee writes horror and loves fairy-tales, the Victorian period (especially top hats!) and cake tents at village fêtes. (She believes serial killers usually opt for the Victoria Sponge). She currently lives in Edinburgh. She doesn’t own a rescue cat, but if she did his name would be Mr Pickles.
The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath will be published in glorious paperback, and we’re sure will be a hit with everyone who loves fairy stories, old and young alike.
Hello Izzy, how are things with you?
Hi Jim, I am very well thank you.
Let’s get some of the basic getting to know sort of questions out of the way first. Just who is Izzy, and how did you come to be a writer?
Well, I am a 38 years old and I have been writing stories since I was little, although I didn’t seek a literary agent until I was 36. I wrote mainly crap poetry and really strange film scripts in my teens, novellas in my early twenties and finally novels in my late twenties. I stopped writing when I was thirty and started again at 35 with a book called LADYBIRD, which is now called THE SINGULAR AND EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF MIRROR AND GOLIATH and is published on June 2.
Who are some of your literary heroes, and what is it about them that appeals to you?
Some of my favourite authors-
Philip K Dick
I love original writers with wild imaginations and a quirky sense of humour. HP Lovecraft had no sense of humour but he had a fascinating psychological aversion to squid.
What are your favorite films and albums?
A few of my favourite films-
ALIEN & ALIENS
CONAN (1982 version)
Pearl - Janis Joplin
Little Queen – Heart
Cats or dogs? I get the feeling that you are a cat fan.
You are right Jim. It’s cats – I tend to write a lot about cats, usually very plump ones.
The last time we spoke we were in pub in Edinburgh with Joe d’lacey. Was it just me or was that a god awful pub. Who the hell fills a pub with beds?
I was very drunk that night and remember very little apart from a surreal conversation about Clive Barker’s THE HELLBOUND HEART and chopped off tongues. I certainly said nothing intelligible!
It’s not long until the release of your debut novel, how are you feeling in the lead up to launch?
I was very nervous in April but now I am actually keen to get it out there. Because it’s been on NETGALLEY for a couple of months, it already feels like its been unleashed to a certain extent, so in some ways the worst part feels over.
Angry Robot books publish the book, how did you come to work with them?
I signed with my literary agent in June 2013 and six months later I got an offer from Angry Robot for a two book deal. Lee Harris ( who was the senior editor with them at the time and now works for TOR) really liked the book, so I was lucky.
What do you think a publisher like Angry Robot brings to the table?
THE BIG BEAUTIFUL USA and great editors
Angry Robot are rather well known for their great covers, but they have really outdone themselves with the cover for your book. Who was the artist and did you have any say in the cover.
The artist is the fantastic John Coultart. I was asked by Angry Robot if I had any preferences for the cover and I wanted something quirky and beautiful.
And what do you think of it?
The cover is gorgeous and I was gob-smacked.
The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath is a fantastic book. I know this is a clichéd question, but what was the inspiration for the book?
I initially wanted to write a book about demonic possession and exorcisms and the character of Goliath was going to be a priest. The book shifted as I wrote it and once Mr Loveheart appeared it went in a totally mad direction I hadn’t expected.
The book is a dark adult fantasy; did you ever consider aiming the book as more of a young adult book? Or did you think that by doing so you wouldn’t be able to fully explore the dark themes of the book?
I don’t think I could or would want to write YA. I feel much happier in the adult fairytale zone.
The book is set in Victorian times, why do you think that era is such a popular place for dark fantasy books? Is there a particular appeal for you as a writer? It’s the whale bone corsets isn’t it?
I have a bit of an obsession with Jack the Ripper so that’s probably why I love it so much. Victorian London is a wonderful environment for dark fairytales I believe because it’s beautiful and also quite terrifying at the same time which makes it exciting. But, I do love a corset !
One of the biggest problems with books set in the Victorian age is in getting the book to actually feel as though it is set in that time. How did you go about ensuring that the book had it’s sense of time and place?
I’m not an expert on Victorian society, although I have a fascination for it. I tried to focus on the characters and their development and I saw the environment as a stage background and let it adapt for them rather than worry too much about authenticity.
The book is filled with wonderfully named characters, and even though they probably aren’t true Victorian names, they just feel right. How did you come up with the names? Do any of them have any significance to you.
I like the names to hold, if possible symbolic significance for the characters. For example Goliath is huge, Mirror can open portals and Loveheart has an obsession with….hearts !
Now that we are close to the publication date, do you think “damn I wish I hadn’t used that name”?
Oooh, interesting question but I think I am pretty happy overall with the names.
I’d like to talk about some of the themes of the book, but before we do that I’d like to talk about the feel of the book in general. I really enjoyed how you managed to give the book a light whimsical feel, almost reminiscent of those BBC family fantasies you used to get on a Sunday teatime. And yet you temper it with a dark lurking under current. How did you get the balance right?
That’s a tricky question. Horror and comedy are perfect companions if the balance is right. I tend to sway between extremes in my writing and often the balance has to be tweaked until it fits. I love the idea of a very British tea and cake scenario and suddenly a severed head bounces on the table and plops into someone’s lap.
Time features a lot in the story, and there are times where the narrative and the cast members jump through time. It is a tricky thing to do correctly in a book, and it runs the risk of confusing the reader. How did you firstly keep track of the time travel elements? Did you write the story in a linear fashion or as the book happens?
The book is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle because it moves back and forth and each section is connected but you have to stick with the story for it to form the full picture. I wrote it a bit like creating a patchwork quilt- in weird little sections.
And secondly, how did you make sure that the story was logical for the readers?
That’s a difficult question as I am not a logical writer. I think however the character of Detective White is and so the reader can follow his analysis of the situation to keep a logical grasp in the storyline.
Mirror has the ability to control time. If you could travel in time what period would you travel to?
I’d pop up in London 1888 and apprehend Jack the Ripper
The book is also chock full of characters that can basically be described as a bit on the mad side? Why the obsession with madness?
The majority of my characters are “off their heads” and for me as a writer , this is a wonderful liberating thing because their view of reality is so beautifully distorted.
Have you used any of the character madness or obsessions as a means to work through some personal demons?
It’s very therapeutic writing a book which has lots of bouncing decapitated heads and cake eating.
Death and the underworld also feature heavily in the book. How much research did you do for the book?
I wanted to create an underworld that reflected the psychological state of its ruler; in this case Mr Fingers. He is obsessed with time and control and therefore his Underworld is predominately concerned with clocks and precision. I researched Egyptian, Aztec, Greek and Celtic mythology Underworlds/ otherworlds.
Tell me about the bees, you mentioned bees in your article with regards to death rituals and I am fascinated by it?
I found a curious, albeit seemingly popular ritual in England of informing the bees of deaths to put them in a state of mourning. Alongside this, other rituals for mirrors to be covered in cloths, clocks stopped and black ribbons applied to steps. One of the most interesting was the ‘watching of the corpse’ to make sure it didn’t get up and wander off.
Out of all the versions of the underworld that exist what is your favourite?
I’m going to choose my own which is a bit cheeky.
Dr Cherrytree, is one of my favourite characters in the book, he really gave me the chills. Have you seen the film Dead Still? It is about a camera haunted by a photographer who took photos of the dead.
I agree with you, Dr Cherrytree is a really creepy git. I haven’t seen Dead Still but I love horror films so I will check that out
The villain of the book likes to eat people as a means to gaining their power. Now do the victims have to be eaten raw or can they cooked?
I think Mr Fingers wouldn’t boil her. He likes his food alive when he’s eating
It is a theme that you have explored in almost all of your work. Why are you so interested in this particular practice?
Oral fixations seem a common motif in fairytales and something I find peculiarly interesting. The idea that you can eat something ( or someone) and transform into something else has a lot of scope in storytelling.
What does the future hold for you? Can you tell us about any forthcoming books?
The sequel, THE CONTRARY TALE OF THE BUTTERFLY GIRL is being published in August. I am currently writing a book about the Scottish witch trials which is based on historical research and incorporates fairytales.
Izzy it has been a great pleasure chatting with you. Do you have any final words for the readers?
For final words I am going to quote Thulsa Doom from CONAN, “Contemplate this on the tree of woe !”
Thank you Jim for the great interview
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