Trapeze Editorial Director Sam Eades asks Isabel six questions about Little Sister:
1) Why did you choose to explore the relationship between sisters? What makes this relationship unique?
I have a little sister (who I love very much) – and, I have a big brother (ditto) – and I’m sandwiched between them, middle child of three. Neither of our parents had a sister, so in a way mine and Bec’s relationship was our own to create, uninformed by strong sister role models. There’s no doubt it’s unique, special, and peculiarly different to relationships with other female friends and relations. There’s an unspoken quality to it – perhaps you feel each other’s joy and pain more intuitively – and so it seemed to me, in a story of secrets and betrayal, you might feel each other’s darkness more clearly too.
2) The novel opens with a missing child. How does this event affect each family member?
How can we ever begin to imagine the horror of losing a child? In Little Sister, baby Daisy goes missing whilst in the care of her aunt, Jess. Unsurprisingly, guilt and blame are strong emotions at work – and with Jess and her sister Emily only recently reunited after years apart, it’s only a matter of time before those emotions break through and old resentments show themselves in new ways.
3) How does the setting – The Isle of Wight – shape the story?
The Isle of Wight is a place I have great affection for. Over the years I’ve spent much time there, either holidaying with the family, or retreating there to walk, write and research. Little Sister is the second book I have firmly located there (the other being Summer of ’76), and in both cases I felt that the island location lent something powerful to the unfolding of drama. I grew up in a small seaside town, and I guess small islands are similar in their way – when big things happen, perhaps they seem even bigger, magnified within the boundaries of the ocean, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and panic that courses through the characters at the heart of the story.
4) Tell us about your fascination with the idea of distorted memory.
Like many of us, I’ve spent much of my life being different things to different people – sister, daughter, mother, partner, friend – and I’m endlessly fascinated by the complexities of family relationships, and the weight of their power. We like to think we are most ourselves with family, but who’s to say which version of us is the best version, the truest version, the most reliable version even? As a writer I’m often drawn to the shadows of family histories – my own included – and find myself wanting to explore the ways in which the memories and consequences of shared events can differ so wildly from person to person. That, in part, is what inspired Little Sister, the idea of inconsistent memory – of distorted memory – ultimately the idea of unreliable truths.
5) You move from present day into flashback in each chapter. What made you choose this style? Was it easy to keep track?
From the first word, I knew the shared histories of Emily and Jess would be fundamental to the telling of this story – it would have been impossible to relate their present day events without filling in some of the gaps of their childhood together. They were born less than twelve months apart, schooled in the same year group, competing over the same friends and attentions. I wanted to know who they were before these altered adults they had become – and so the flashbacks were a vital part of the process. It was surprisingly easy to keep track; the more I wrote about them, the more they grew in strength and clarity, a kind of organic blooming of character and feeling.
6) The book is filled with twists and turns. Did you know how the story was going to end? Or did it surprise you?
When working on a new novel I usually have a good sense of how it starts, what the big (if initially blurry) picture appears to be, and more often than not, a strong idea of where it will end. The hard bit tends to be the eighty to ninety thousand words in between! There are unsettling periods, when you’re not sure where your writing will take you – and then there are those gloriously unexpected moments in the sun when a new twist or revelation shows itself to you, and your heart leaps – and you know it is a better book for it.
Sam Eades, senior commissioning editor at Orion said of the acquisition: ‘The complex relationship between sisters continues to fascinate readers, from Rosamund Lupton’s Sister to SK Tremayne’s The Ice Twins. A sister can be our closest friend, and also our deadliest enemy. What is so clever about Little Sister is that Isabel Ashdown offers something fresh and distinctive. She pairs an unforgettable premise with two intriguing narrative voices that will have readers hooked from the very first page. I’m delighted to have signed Isabel Ashdown to new imprint Trapeze, and she has lots of in-house fans who can’t wait to see what she will write next!’
To read the full article, including comments from Isabel and her agent Kate Shaw, click here.
For all enquiries regarding foreign rights, interviews and review copies please email Sam Eades: Sam.Eades@orionbooks.co.uk
If you’re holidaying on the Isle of Wight this year (which I’d highly recommend), you might like a few book recommendations to get you fully immersed in Wight spirit. Here are ten novels, set on the Isle of Wight, starting with my latest psychological thriller Little Sister:
Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown
After sixteen years apart sisters Jessica and Emily are reunited.
With the past now behind them, the warmth they once shared quickly returns and before long Jess has moved into Emily’s comfortable island home. Life couldn’t be better. But when baby Daisy disappears while in Jess’s care, the perfect life Emily has so carefully built starts to fall apart. Was Emily right to trust her sister after everything that happened before?
Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
Former dairy farmer Jack Luxton has created a whole new kind of life with his wife Ellie, as comfortable owners of a seaside caravan park on the Isle of Wight, a far cry from his childhood home in Devon. On an autumn day in 2006, he receives the news that his estranged younger brother Tom has been killed in Iraq.
Now, Jack must make a crucial journey to receive his brother’s remains and return to his homeland, a place of unfinished business and painful memories.
Tennyson’s Gift by Lynne Truss
It’s July 1864, in Freshwater on the West side of the Isle of Wight. What happens when the poet Tennyson, the mathematician Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron are thrown into the company of an American phrenologist Lorenzo Fowler and the painter G. F Watts? The place buzzes with creativity and ego, in a wonderfully comic tale of farce and literary delight. A must-read if you’re planning a visit to the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibitions at Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater Bay.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
When Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital there is a bitter irony in his situation. Carefully removing his bandages, he realizes that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower. Now, with civilization in chaos, the triffids – huge, venomous, large-rooted plants able to ‘walk’, feeding on human flesh – can have their day. Locations include Sussex, Wiltshire, London and the Isle of Wight, where a successful colony has been established.
Summer of ’76 by Isabel Ashdown
It’s the start of one of the hottest summers on record with soaring temperatures and weeks without rain; the summer of Abba, T-Rex, Bowie and Roussos; of Martinis, cheesecake and chicken chasseur; of the Montreal Olympics and the Notting Hill riots – the summer Big Ben stopped dead. For 18-year-old Luke Wolff life is looking good, until temperatures rise, and with windows and doors constantly open, long-buried secrets bubble over. Soon the community is gripped by scandal, and everything Luke thought he knew about family and trust is turned on its head.
The Bed I Made by Lucy Whitehouse
When Kate meets a dark, enigmatic man in a Soho bar, she doesn’t hesitate long before going home with him. There is something undeniably attractive about Richard – and irresistibly dangerous, too. Now, after eighteen exhilarating but fraught months, Kate knows she has to finish their relationship and hopes that will be the end of it. Fleeing London for the wintry Isle of Wight, she is determined to ignore the flood of calls and emails from an increasingly insistent Richard. But what began as a nuisance becomes an ever more threatening game of cat and mouse.
England, England by Julian Barnes
As every schoolboy knows, you can fit the whole of England on the Isle of Wight. Grotesque, visionary tycoon Sir Jack Pitman takes the saying literally and does exactly that. He constructs on the island ‘The Project’, a vast heritage centre containing everything ‘English’, from Big Ben to Stonehenge, from Manchester United to the white cliffs of Dover. The project is monstrous, risky, and vastly successful. Barnes’ novel calls into question the idea of replicas, truth vs fiction, reality vs art, nationhood, myth-making, and self-exploration.
No Escape by N. J. Cooper
‘Spike Falconer is in prison on the Isle of Wight – convicted of murder. What made him choose four innocent strangers, a family picnicking, as his victims? Why did he need to kill? Forensic psychologist Karen Taylor comes to probe the mind of this psychopath. Trying to recover from the death of her husband and the dark memories surrounding it, Karen is drawn into life on the Island. Someone on the Island doesn’t want Karen getting too close to Spike . . .’
– source: Amazon
The Trespasser by D. H. Lawrence
‘D. H. Lawrence’s second novel The Trespasser is based on the tragic love affair of his friend Helen Corke and her violin teacher. After reading Miss Corke’s diary, Lawrence first urged her to write her story and then received her permission to do it himself. Between his rapid composition of the first draft in the spring and summer of 1910 and his final revisions in early 1912, Lawrence’s view of Helen Corke, and consequently of her story, changed. The manuscript survived’
– source: Amazon
Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown
Portsmouth, 1984. Thirteen-year-old Jake’s world is unravelling as his father and older brother leave home, and his mother, Mary, plunges into alcoholic freefall. When his parents reconcile, life finally seems to be looking up. Their first family holiday, announced over scampi and chips in the Royal Oak, promises to be the icing on the cake – until long-unspoken family secrets begin to surface. Locations include 1950s Brighton, 1980s Portsmouth, the Dordogne, and the Isle of Wight where Jake holidays with his cousins in the West of the island.
All these books can be found in Waterstones on the Isle of Wight, as well as in various online stores. Happy holidays … and happy reading!