It's my pleasure to start having regular guest writers on my blog once again. Today I'm delighted to have writer Vivienne Tuffnell as my guest and she's meeting Isobel in "Away With The Fairies".
As a writer, I meet some extraordinary people in the course of my work and I get to write their stories for them. Of all the people who have appeared in my books, Isobel Trelawny, whom you may know from Away With The Fairies, has appeared in more tales than anyone else. She's played best supporting actress in several but she's the star of Away With The Fairies and today she's agreed to sit down with me and have a bit of a chat. We've got the coffee, but instead of Isobel's favourite biscuits, (chocolate Hob-Nobs), I've only been able to find some ginger snaps.
Viv: I hope the biscuits aren't too much of a let down.
Isobel (laughing; she does this quite a bit). That's OK, I'm cool with ginger biccies.
Viv: I'm glad to hear that! Anyway, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Isobel: It's a pleasure. Gets me a bit of space in my day, to be honest.
Viv: I gather that can be quite a problem, yes?
Isobel: Well, I know your family is grown up now, but I'm sure you remember how much hard work small children are. Miranda, my oldest, is alarmingly bright and I have to be up to the mark all the time. Luke's much more laid-back about life. And simply finding the mental space to day dream rather than doing things all the time is really hard. I'm often so knackered by the time the kids are in bed, I really don't have the energy to paint, or even think.
Viv: You weren't sure you'd be able to have kids, as I recall?
Isobel: True, which makes me feel guilty about whinging about them when I do. I had a series of miscarriages when Mickey and I first got married. There wasn't an explanation; there was nothing wrong, as far as the quacks could see. I just kept losing them early on. Then some years later, I woke up one morning not only knowing I was pregnant but also being fairly sure this one would go to term.
Viv: Your parents died when you were pregnant with Luke. How did that affect you?
Isobel (laughing again) You know damn well how it affected me! OK, well, I was shocked and then I was angry. I'd not had a good relationship with them, to be honest. I felt (and I had good evidence about this) that they neither of them approved of me and my life choices very much. I was just at the point in my life when I felt it might be possible for them to start approving of me when they killed themselves. I don't think anyone really knows how they truly feel about their parents till they're gone. I certainly didn't. I didn't know how ill they both had been. I'd kept them at arms' length for years, avoiding anything that might bring out any emotional reaction. And when they were gone, suddenly, like that, I couldn't process it. I was heavily pregnant and people kept telling me to relax and not get upset and so on. Oh and “Think of the baby!” So it was a while later before I could start to even think about it all. By then, you see, people assume you've done your grieving and you're tickety-boo. But I wasn't. Far from it. I was pretty much at breaking point and yet, I simply didn't know it. It was killing that deer with the car that was the tipping point that meant I couldn't go on pretending any longer.
Viv: I know. Since the events of Away With The Fairies, you've had some more tough things to deal with, so it does seem a long, and ongoing process.
Isobel: I think what's gone on since then has been long overdue. I've got a streak of wildness that I thought I had under control but it seems not. I've always soared from extremes to extremes but never quite as devastatingly as this.
Viv: Now, your husband Mickey is a clergyman. Looking at you, you seem a long way from any clergy wife of popular but horribly dated sterotypes. (Isobel has henna'd hair, wears ripped and paint smeared jeans, and a rather wonderful amber necklace that matches her eyes. She talks very fast and with a lot of hand gestures; she's a comfortable person to be around but she's not prim and certainly not proper) How much impact does his job have on you?
Isobel: Too much, sometimes. The doorbell and the phone never stop bloody ringing. Oh don't get me wrong, generally, the vast majority of folks aren't a problem, but once in a while, I get people making a big deal of the fact that I don't do anything in church. I don't get involved in groups or lead anything. The fact that I turn up at all is a miracle some times. My best friend Chloe is a very rare sight in any church, and her husband and Mickey trained together.
Viv: I've met Chloe too. Given what she went through at college, I'm not surprised.
Isobel: I feel mildly guilty at times about that. The events of her final year at the vicar factory which ended with her breaking her leg every which way but Sunday were partly down to me. My wild, rebellious streak got out of hand and poor Chloe was the one who got hurt badly. I don't think she's ever blamed me, but I do sometimes blame myself.
Viv: I'm sorry to hear it. I know the story and I think whatever you and Chloe had done, it would have ended badly. Possibly worse. Now, you were able to buy a small place in the country where you could paint. I'm having trouble with my writing and I'd love to spend some time at your cottage. Is it really so spooky as you said?
Isobel: It can be scary, which might be me understating it rather a lot. But it rather depends what baggage you go with. My friend Antony spent some time there a while ago. But apart from stopping his mobile phone working, nothing happened that time. More recently, he stayed, and some deep issues he'd not been able to deal with began to surface. It's one of those places that has a foot in both realms. In the ordinary, everyday world, it's a slightly run down, rather picturesque hideaway. But it's also a place that stands on the edge of the other world, the world of beings that we seldom interact with, and that can be tough to deal with.
Viv: You're talking about the fairies now?
Isobel: (grinning now) I suppose I am!
Viv: You're a pretty pragmatic sort of person from what I know of you, and you're not at all one of these New Age believe-anything women. So, far as I can see, you're not the most likely candidate for getting caught up with the whole concept of fairies. Can you tell me what they're like?
Isobel: I can tell you what they're not. They're not anything like what you see in modern depictions of fairies. There's no glitter or pretty-pretty faces. None of the sparkly magic and so on you see in both kids' books and the New Age ones you referred to. They're.....well, primeval is the only word I can think of. Earthy. They're not what you think and they're not what you expect. I'm not even convinced I understand them myself.
Viv: OK, and that brings me to a hard question. How does any of what you experienced in the cottage square with your faith?
Isobel: That IS a hard question. I'm not sure how to answer it. Churchianity tries to give nice neat answers to life's tough questions and it gets cross and burns people at the stake for refusing to accept those neat answers as all that there is. I don't believe we can know all the answers, but that we have to keep asking the questions anyway, even after we think we know the answers. Certain branches of Churchianity would tell me that my parents are burning in hell for committing suicide, that by that one act after two good, caring lives they damned themselves forever. And yet, I came to see that their deaths were possibly the most noble things they'd ever done.
Viv: Churchianity? I like that term!
Isobel: So do I. The thing is, God is not bound by human rules and that sadly is what many churches have sought to do: bind God by their rules. That's like trying to cage the air, and make it obey your rules. Anyway, enough God-talk.
(She's looking a bit uncomfortable about this, so I think it's time to move the conversation to something else.)
Viv: OK, so tell me about your painting, your art?
Isobel: That's tough. Hmm. Let me think. OK, I don't have your way with words, but I think I paint my stories. You write yours, but I have to paint them. I paint the things I see and I feel inside my head, and I try to use that to tell the greater narrative of life. I can only paint a tiny section of it and hope that it adds to the greater picture somewhere.
Viv: I certainly feel you succeed with it, as much as any of us can. Anyway, can you sum up for us your experiences?
Isobel: You do go for asking the tough questions! I'll try. Hmmm. Perhaps it's best to say that there are more things that we don't know that that we do, and to be open-minded about the world and not get bogged down with dogmatic answers to life's big questions. Oh and love your family with all your strength. That's something too easy to forget, that the love you share with family and friends is not an automatic right that'll be there forever. People die and they don't always give you any warning of it. So tell those you love that you love them. I never got a chance to tell my mum and dad I loved them until they were gone. Don't make my mistake.
Viv: Thank you very much indeed, Isobel. I'd like to wish you luck with your continued exploration of the world through your art.
Isobel: It's a pleasure. Now, do you think we can sneak off for a glass of wine somewhere? I'm parched!
Viv: Sure, but you're buying!
Lulu paperback (will be on both Amazon sites in time)