Today I'm pleased to be shining the debut spotlight on journalist Isabelle Broom who I have met many times over the last couple of years at various book events. In her day job she is book reviews editor at Heat magazine so regularly features books and authors to look out for so it's only fair to turn the tables and take a look at Isabelle herself and her debut novel The Map of You which is published this Thursday.
I'm lucky enough to have been invited to her launch so keep your eyes peeled later this week as I will be buying an extra copy of My Map of You for Isabelle to sign for a giveaway prize.
Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts at the University of West London before starting a career first in local newspapers and then as a junior sub-editor at heat magazine. She travelled through Europe during her gap year and went to live on the Greek island of Zakynthos for an unforgettable and life-shaping six months after completing her degree. Since then, she has travelled to Canada, Sri Lanka, Sicily, New York, LA, the Canary Islands, Spain and lots more of Greece, but her wanderlust was reined in when she met Max, a fluffy little Bolognese puppy desperate for a home. When she's not writing novels set in far-flung locations, Isabelle spends her time being the Book Reviews Editor at heat magazine and walking her beloved dog round the parks of north London.
You can follow her on Twitter @Isabelle_Broom or find her on Facebook under Isabelle Broom Author
When I told Emma I was arranging this debut spotlight feature with Isabelle she immediately came up with some fantastic questions as she'd just finished reading My Map of You which she'd loved. So I'll hand you over to Emma and Isabelle for their Q&A which I'm sure will have you wanting to dive right in and read My Map of You and take a trip to Zakynthos especially after viewing the photos Isabelle sent us.
Where did the idea come from to use a map as a source to guide Holly on her journey? Were you tempted for her to discover a notebook or something different?
It’s funny you should ask that, because originally I had planned for Holly for discover letters and postcards throughout the story. The map idea goes way back to 2014, during a chat I had with agent extraordinaire Lizzy Kremer and her assistant Harriet. I’d won a session with Lizzy as part of my prize for Simon & Schuster’s short story competition, and she had read the first 30,000 or so words of what later became My Map Of You. We batted around heaps of ideas during that session, and the hidden map was one of them.
Does the island hold a special place in your heart and is that why you chose it as the location for the setting?
Yes! I’ve been in love with Zakynthos ever since I first visited the island 16 years ago, and I’ve been back pretty much every year since – often more than once. It’s more than a second home to me, it’s my spiritual home, and I fully intend to live there myself one day. The way I feel about the place is what inspired me to create Holly and her story.
Why didn't you have any chapters set in the past from Sandra or Jennifer's point of view?
I actually did in my first draft, but it was decided quite rightly by my editor to cut them out and just keep the narrative driven purely by Holly. I’m glad I wrote them, though, because it gave me such a better grasp of Jenny and Sandra’s characters. And losing them meant we had lots more space for Holly and Aidan’s adventures around the island, which were so much fun to write.
Your descriptions of the island are fantastic, it really helped me visualise the story and all the places Holly visits. Was it hard to recreate the setting, or had you your own map from memory to help you?
Do you know what, I actually enjoyed writing those bits the most, because it felt as if I was back there rather than at my chilly little desk in London. I know the island so well that I was able to conjure everything up quite easily, but I did go over to do some extra research and follow the same route that Holly does with her map. Afterwards, I used photos and referred to my notes, but most of it was just in my head ready and waiting.
I know they are not the main stars of the book, but the dogs steal scenes several times. Were you always planning to include them?
I have my own dog – he’s called Max, and he’s awesome – so I guess it just felt natural to have a dog under the feet of the characters half the time. Plus, Aidan’s a vet, so it made sense to me that he would have an animal companion. Dogs are also great for adding comedy to a serious moment – sticking their wet snouts where they really shouldn’t. And the puppy… Well, something had to give Holly a good excuse to go knocking at her neighbour’s door again…
I genuinely didn't know how the story would pan out. I love not guessing the ending too soon. Did you know yourself how everything would resolve itself, or did Holly and her family take you on a different path?
I knew bits, but if I’m honest I wasn’t sure if Holly would take the path she eventually does until I was a good third into the book. Sometimes you can meticulously plan what your characters will say and do, and then once you begin writing they go off and do their own thing. It sounds like witchcraft, I know, but it’s absolutely true. The idea for the final chapter came to me when I was already halfway through writing the book. I was walking home from work, and it just popped in there. I think I cried in the street like a mad woman!
The more I read, the more lost I became in the story. I really felt like I was there alongside Holly, uncovering secrets while attempting to heal. I wonder if her aunt had not passed away, would she have remained stuck in the same mindset she was in?
I like to think she would have got to the same place that she eventually does, but perhaps not as quickly. At the start of the book, Holly was accustomed to sticking her head under the sand, but I do think her niggling doubts about the life she’d chosen for herself would have caused cracks. Her passion for sewing would always have made a return, too – she just needed something to reignite it.
What aspects of the book did you find difficult to write?
Everyone talks about the middle part of a book being the hardest, and there is definitely truth in that. I wouldn’t say any of the actual writing part was hard, as such, it’s more the mechanics of getting everything to fall into place at the right time, and moving the story forward seamlessly in a way that keeps the momentum nice and buoyant. I learnt a heck of a lot writing this debut, and hopefully I’ve applied those new skills to book two. I don’t know where I would be without my amazing agent and editor. Well, I do – I’d still be sitting at my writing desk, surrounded by all the clumps of hair I’d pulled out!.
Who would you cast on the main male and female roles?
This is a GREAT question! It has to be Aidan Turner – aka Poldark – in the lead male role. He has all the appropriate, ahem, attributes. And for Holly, I’d choose Giovanna Fletcher, because she has the dark curls and the quiet beauty. But obviously if a film was ever made and Aidan Turner was involved, I’d naturally insist on playing the part of Holly myself!
Have you plans to set your next book in another warm inviting location, or for something totally different?
Book two is set in the completely different location of Prague, in the Czech Republic, in the weeks running up to Christmas, although it’s not festive-themed in any way at all. The details are still top secret at this stage, but I can tell you that there will be more love, more adventures, more tears and perhaps even a sprinkling of magic.
Holly Wright has had a difficult few years. After her mother's death, she's become expert at keeping people at a distance - including her boyfriend, Rupert.
But when Holly receives an unexpected letter explaining that an aunt she never met has left her a house on the Greek island of Zakynthos, the walls she has built begin to crumble. Arriving on the island, Holly meets the handsome Aidan and slowly begins to uncover the truth about the secret which tore her family apart.
But is the island where Holly really belongs? Or will her real life catch up with her first