In the late eighties, Obernewtyn, by Australian author Isobelle Carmody, opened up a new fantasy genre to young adults.
Fantasy has become popular among young readers over recent years with its sci-fi, supernatural and post-apocalyptic themes.
When I was 14, I borrowed a copy of book one in Isobelle’s The Obernewtyn Chronicles from my English teacher. I became an immediate fan of Isobelle’s work, as did two of my girlfriends. We devoured everything she’d written.
Isobelle was a key author who sparked in me a great love for stories. So you can imagine how I felt when I met her, after hearing her speak at Margaret River Reader’s and Writer’s Festival (MRRWF) in May 2015.
Until this year, I knew nothing personal about the famed Isobelle Carmody. It turned out that I had a lot in common with her.
Writing for young adults
Isobelle loves the adolescent voice because it is filled with what she describes as a ‘vivid fear’. ‘Teenagers fluctuate from feeling in control to feeling powerless,’ she said.
This tipping back and forth between feelings of power and powerlessness is something that adults can also identify with and it’s likely the reason adults, not just teenagers, also enjoy her fiction.
Maybe curiosity didn’t kill anything
An engaging and inspiring speaker, Isobelle entertained us with funny life stories that revealed her curious mind.
She loves doubtful people because, she says, doubt indicates to her that they’re thinkers. ‘People who are certain about life scare me,’ she said.
To Isobelle, every person is a mystery. She plays out, in her mind, different scenarios of how the people she meets would react in fictional settings.
She has a deep understanding of people. As such, throughout her stories Isobelle has successfully created authentic, loveable characters. She is certain of what her characters would and wouldn’t do, would and wouldn’t say. This is a major reason why her stories are effective.
Excellence created by obsession
Until I heard Isobelle talk, I believed that achieving a balance of everything in all aspects of life is what nurtures good mental and physical health. Isobelle may have convinced me otherwise.
She works according to her obsessions and she’s obsessed with The Obernewtyn Chronicles.
Given the success of all her books, I can’t help but think that maybe living and breathing the fictional stories I write is what’s required for them to succeed. Having permission to obsess over stories appeals to me – what a way to escape and enjoy life! (Maybe my addictive personality isn’t all that bad after all…)
Philosophy in fiction
Not only is Isobelle greatly influenced by the weather, (rain and storms are her favourites) she’s also a philosophical thinker. Underlying her work are always the questions; can people better themselves? Do people ever really change?
Isobelle is on a life quest to understand courage and bravery. People who are courageous fascinate her. She is intrigued by the dynamics of how bravery works. She said there is a great paradox in that; to be brave, you don’t feel brave, but fearful.
When Isobelle told the MRRWF audience about some fearful situations she’d lived through, her interviewer remarked that she seemed like a very brave person. Isobelle’s response was, ‘when being brave, you don’t see it that way. At the time, all you feel is fear’.
Isobelle often puts herself in the way of fear. She said she feels most alive when she’s afraid. Her words resonated with me as I thought about the most exciting moments from my life and how scared I was during those times but also, how those moments were worth the trade of courage.
‘When we’re vulnerable and afraid, we’re most sensitive to our environment. The fear strips a layer off us and makes us see the world with new eyes,’ said Isobelle. I hadn’t heard such a simple yet profound, and inspiring, statement in a long time.
There’s no doubt that great sacrifice is needed to be a writer. For Isobelle, writing has brought her everything she thought she was giving up to write – and more. What an encouragement!
The world is full of lovely Creatives
Isobelle has only ever written for personal pleasure (and her daughter) but she is deeply grateful to have created stories that have also brought delight to others.
My impression of this long-time, personal literary heroine was wholly positive. A gentle, curious spirit, full of courage and wisdom, Isobelle was a delight to meet. She exceeded my expectations and caused me to buzz inside. I walked home on Cloud 9.
(Isobelle’s a self-confessed hermit, yet she came to MRRWF. Of all the places in Australia, she came to Margaret River in WA! I felt incredibly blessed by the odds.)
Isobelle has returned home to finish The Red Queen, in what she calls ‘lock down’. This seventh novel in The Obernewtyn Chronicles is due to be released in November. That’s just enough time to read the previous six books if you haven’t already!