A very special interview: Isabel Wolff's amazing and fantastic novel A Vintage Affair is published in Dutch now as Villa Vintage!
I recently have read and reviewed the English book (see here)and it is a book you really have to read!! Can't wait to read and review it again in the Dutch translation!
Let's welcome Isabel for an interview!
CAN YOU TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOKS?
My eight novels are romantic comedies, all written with a combination of pathos and humour. They are all first person narratives because I like the directness and the intimacy of the first person 'voice'. My novels are page-turning reads, with a lot of mystery, so in that sense are 'commercial' - but they are also quite literary, with many descriptive passages alongside the dialogue. People often say that though they are easy to read there is a lot 'to' them and I certainly try to piece the story together in an intelligent and satisfying way. In each book my heroine has done something that she regrets and is given the second chance - that so often eludes us in real life - to put it right. I think it's important for the reader to feel uplifted at the end, and hopefully to feel that the world is a slightly better place. They are defintely redemptive stories. I want my heroines to be redeemed.
I give my heroines interesting jobs. In 'The Trials of Tiffany Trott' (also published by de Kern) Tiffany is an advertising copywriter, in 'The Making of Minty Malone', Minty is a radio journalist; in 'Out of the Blue', Faith is a TV weather presenter, in 'Rescuing Rose', Rose is an Agony Aunt, in 'Behaving Badly', Miranda is an animal behaviourist, in 'A Question of Love', Laura is a TV quiz show presenter, in 'Forget Me Not' Anna is a garden designer and in 'Villa Vintage' Phoebe runs a vintage dress shop. I give my heroines these interesting careers because I think it's nice for the reader to learn about a different world, while at the same time enjoying what is, I hope, a really page-turning story. But the job that each of my heroines does is not just background, but is absolutley crucial to the plot - the story flows directly from it.
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING AND DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BECOME AN AUTHOR?
When I was younger I wanted to be an actress, but when I realised that an actor's life was not really for me I joined the BBC and became a broadcaster, spending 12 years as a reporter at the BBC World Service. I also wrote freelance articles for a variety of newspapers and magazines and in 1997 was asked to write a comical 'girl about town' column for the Daily Telegraph, and so Tiffany Trott was born. I was then commissioned to turn Tiffany Trott's adventures into a book, and as 'The Trials of Tiffany Trott' was an international bestseller my publishers, HarperCollins, asked me to write a second book, then a third one and so on. All the novels have a lot of poignancy alongside the humour, and I think that each book is more poignant than the last, and this is certainly true of 'Villa Vintage'. Many readers have told me that it has moved them to tears.
IF YOU COULD BE A CHARACTER FROM VILLA VINTAGE FOR ONE DAY WHO WOULD IT BE?
I guess it would have to be the novel's main character, Phoebe, because I always identify with my heroines very closely - I almost *become* them - even though their lives are very different from mine. But I would enjoy being in the Villa Vintage shop, arranging and selling the beautiful clothes, helping my customers to find the perfect outfit, or to accessorise an outfit they already have with a vintage bag, belt or scarf. And I would very much enjoy sourcing the clothes - going out to buy them at auction, and from private individuals - it would be fascinating. But Phoebe has a lot of sadness in her life - her best friend has died in mysterious circumstances and she is struggling with this, so of course I would find that part of being Phoebe hard. But because I am also the author I would know that Phoebe is about to be helped, in ways she could never have imagined, by a little blue coat from wartime Provence...
VILLA VINTAGE IS ABOUT VINTAGE DRESSES AND ABOUT A LITTLE BLUE COAT - HOW DID YOU RESEARCH THIS?
Although I have always loved vintage clothing I wasn't an expert on it, and so I did a lot of research. I spoke to nine or ten people who own vintage dress shops or sell vintage clothing online. I also interviewed a textiles expert from Sothebys and read lots of books about vintage clothing, so I immersed myself in the subject. Of course vintage clothing (which means anything up to the early 1980s) is really a history of 20th Century fashion. Vintage clothes are both lovely to look at and of very high quality, and they also provide a powerful reminder of the era in which they were made. But I think the main point about vintage clothes is that you're not just buying fabric and threads - you're actually buying a piece of someone's past. This is what Villa Vintage is really about - the poignant stories that often lie behind beautiful old clothes.
I'd like to add that some of the clothes are almost like characters. There are four sparkling 1950s evening dresses, or 'prom' dresses (I call them 'cupcake' dresses) and each one inspires a sub-plot of its own. But the most important garment in the novel is the blue coat, because one of the main characters is an elderly Frenchwoman called Therese Bell, who came to London after the war. Phoebe goes to see Mrs Bell to evaluate her wardrobe of clothes - but there is one garment that Mrs Bell says she'll never part with - a child's blue coat from wartime Avignon. So I went to Avignon to research Mrs Bell's background story so that it would feel absolutely real to the reader. I also did alot of finding out about wine-making as Phoebe falls in love with a man who owns a vineyard in Chateuneuf-du-Pape. I find the research that I do not just enjoyable but fascinating and I feed that passion into the book.
IT MUST BE GREAT TO SEE YOUR BOOK BEING TRANSLATED INTO DUTCH - CAN WE EXPECT MORE BOOKS BY YOU IN THE FUTURE?
I was absolutely thrilled when de Kern bought 'Villa Vintage' and I am even more thrilled by the beautiful cover that they have put on it - it's so perfect for the story - suggesting as it does, fashion and dressmaking, France, and also a haunting: those wire dress formes do have an abandoned, almost ghostly look to them which suits the story perfectly, because both Phoebe and Mrs Bell have lost their best friends (one in the present day, and one during the war); and both feel that they were to blame. They become close friends, and each woman helps the other to overcome her sadness.
I am now working on my next novel, about a portrait painter - and about the poignnt stories that often lie behind paintings - and I very much hope that that book will also be published in Holland.
WHERE DID YOU GET THE INSPIRATION FOR THE MAIN CHARACTERS?
The novel sprang from the idea of vintage clothing. Once I knew that it was to be about that, then everything else flowed from it and in a way the book is about all apsects of ageing - whether we treasure our past or try to discard it, whether we are happy and accepting about getting older, or try and superannuate ourselves with bizarre treatments and plastic surgery (as Phoebe's mother does). The book also taps into vintage films, and vintage wine, and also archeology - so it's all about the Past and to what extent we value the past. I suppose Phoebe is a bit like me - she has to be otherwise I could not identify with her enough to write her character, let alone in the first person. Mrs Bell is partly based on my grandmother who came to Britain from Germany in the early 30s. I will never forget her telling me, when I was 8, that her best friend, Helene, had been 'murdered'. I was naturally shocked and horrified, and didn't understand why or how it could have happened (and my grandmother didn't want to tell me) - until a few years later. Helene left Paris for Lyon in March 1944 and was arrested there soon afterwards, and was killed in Auschwitz a month later. Although my grandmother was in England by then, and could not have helped Helene, even if she had known what was happening, she nevertheless felt a terrible and lifelong sense of regret and I am sure that this underpins this part of the novel. So because of the vintage theme I took the idea of a piece of clothing - a little blue coat - that Therese, aged 13, promised to take to her best friend, Monique, who was in hiding. But Therese got there too late...
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE AND LEAST FAVOURITE PART OF BEING A WRITER? I suppose my favourite part of being a writer is hearing from my readers - which because of Facebook and twitter etc. is happening more and more - its' wonderful that writers and readers can now connect so easily. I am happy beyond words when someone tells me that they loved one of my books and was moved or amused or cheered up by it. This is the greatest reward. My least favourite part of being a writer is when I'm trying to work out the plots - which I always do very carefully in advance: the mental struggle involved in creating a good, coherent plot with emotion and humour, mystery, surprise and, ultimately, redemption is SO hard - but once I've got there I feel so, so happy.
DO YOU HAVE A DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR WRITING - SOMETHING THAT YOU WOULD LOVE TO ACCOMPLISH?
I suppose my dream is just to be able to continue writing novels that people want to read, and are hopefully moved, amused and uplifted by - that is my only aim.
For more about Isabel Wolff, you can visit her website here .
For my dutch readers: Villa Vintage is uitgegeven bij De Kern en vanaf nu in de boekwinkel.