Thursday, September 2, 2010

Author Interview: Isla Morley

Photobucket Yesterday, I reviewed a wonderful book, Come Sunday by Isla Morley. She was kind enough to answer my questions.

GJR: I didn’t really like Abbe but I didn’t dislike her either. I felt for her but I also felt that she was self-absorbed and not really mindful of others around her. Was this intentional on your part or just how the novel/character unraveled?

Isla Morley: It’s more important that we somehow relate to her, even in a small way. Haven’t we all had those days when we’re not our best selves? Abbe, before the tragedy, is flawed, she’s got baggage, she’s wounded beneath that layer of irritability. And after the tragedy, she’s ripped open. You see her at her worst, but you gradually begin to see her get better. And so “liking” isn’t as important as hanging in there with her, pulling for her and hoping she’ll find a patch of peace where she can be herself. I think we’re cautious to judge her; who knows what we’d be like in her situation? But if we’ve endured just a little bit of suffering, we know that it can make us very self-absorbed. The journey, then, is moving from that position to a more outward- or other-oriented one. If Abbe had started off being Mother Teresa and ended up in the same place, what’s the point? And the same applies to us. I’d have to say that from the onset I knew she’d have to make that inner journey, but the extent of it and all the ramifications along the way were mostly her doing. By the end of the book, I think I’d learned almost as much as she did.

GJR: In my opinion, I don’t think you have to love the heroine to enjoy a book. Would you agree?

Isla Morley: This is a tricky question. Some readers like to fall in love. They meet the main character in the first paragraph and by the end of page one, it’s a full-blown crush. I probably fall into this category most of the time. And this is all well and good when page one opens on a rainy day when our heroine has to cast aside her journal where she has just been recording her latest dieting failure to go apply a tourniquet to a soldier all shot up with shrapnel. But what if the story shows our heroine in a pitbull mood setting fire to her kitchen curtains? Maybe we’re not so quick to give away our heart. For this book I’ve written, I’m deeply grateful for those readers who are the slow-burners, who eventually grow to love the heroine and as they do, become fiercely loyal.

GJR: Before the tragedy, you can almost see the writing on the wall for Abbe and Greg. Why did you decide to have them move apart rather than come together?

Isla Morley: Again, this wasn’t my doing as much as it was Abbe’s. And Greg’s too. They choose different paths, and rather than Abbe relying on Greg to heal her pain and save the day, she realizes she has to do it herself.

GJR: Obviously where we are raised has a tremendous influence on who we become, how do you feel that South Africa shaped Abbe? Do you think her experiences were different because of the political turmoil there?

Isla Morley: Most definitely. Abbe was battered from living with a violent father, but she was also wounded by the violence in her own country. She was terrorized for much of her early life, and instead of dealing with it, she relocated. So the next big trauma comes along, and suddenly she’s confronting everything: the death of her daughter, the abuse of her father, her mother’s untimely death, as well the injustices and atrocities she’s witnessed in the land of her birth. Healing can only come when she deals with the issue of blame, figures out what forgiveness looks like, and tests her heart rubbed raw to see if it’s willing to risk again.

GJR: Why title the novel “Come Sunday”?

Isla Morley: It’s the title of a great song by Duke Ellington. There’s a refrain in it that says, “God of love, look down and see my people through.” We all go through great trials, but the song speaks of hope, like it’s shining through grey clouds and falling on the path just up ahead. I thought this was perfect for Abbe’s struggle, and also for the struggle of her homeland.

GJR: What are some of your favorite books that are set in South Africa? Or books that are about South Africa?

Isla Morley: My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan; Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog; Towards the Mountain by Alan Paton; The Smell of Apples by Mark Behr; Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (although she writes about the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia), and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

GJR: Since this is your first novel, did you have any preconceived notions about writing a book? What is easier or harder than you thought?

Isla Morley: I had no preconceived ideas at all, particularly since I didn’t set out to write a novel. It started out as a vision, of sorts, and after I told my husband about it, he told me to make a note of it. So, the next day, I did, except the note starting getting longer and longer, and eighty pages into it some three months later, I said, “Hang on a mo’.” It only got hard when my next thought was, “You silly girl! You’re writing a novel! Quick, go look up how to do it.” All the advice was paralyzing. Finally, I had to put it all aside and tell myself what I tell my daughter almost every day, “Let’s just take it one step at a time.”

GJR: Are you working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us the premise?

Isla Morley: I am working on something, yes. But no, I can’t tell you about it. If it makes you feel better, I didn’t show my husband the manuscript of Come Sunday till it was almost ready to be sent to an agent.

GJR: What are you currently reading?

Isla Morley: I just started Anne Tyler’s book, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurantand I am still wading through Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

GJR: What authors do you always go back to? What books do you gravitate towards reading over and over again?

Isla Morley: I like literary fiction with the redemption theme, stuff that makes me cry, and I like books where I just marvel at the craft. Cormac McCarthy, Annie Dillard, Carol Shields, Richard Russo. For the first time since college, I am about to re-read a book: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. For wit, Anne Lamott and Bill Bryson.

I want to thank Isla Morley for taking time to answer my questions. I'm definitely going to have to check out some of those books regarding South Africa!

You can also find her on Facebook, Isla Morley's Page.

(photo courtesy of Molly Hawkey)



Carol ,  September 3, 2010 at 2:33 PM  

What an intriguing book Come Sunday is!

I read it when it came out in hard cover last year and I was captivated by it. After reading a number of interviews at I thought I should re-visit Abbe and Come Sunday.

This second read is so rich, I am enthralled by the way Ms. Morley captures a moment, whether it is the ordinary every day events or the life-changing's as if I am living the moment with Abbe.

I look forward to her next novel with great anticipation!

I highly recommend Come Sunday, it is a fabulous read.

Koala Bear Writer September 15, 2010 at 11:39 PM  

Great interview! I'd agree that Abbe isn't hugely likeable, but I loved the book. For a case of not liking the heroine but loving the book, I'd point to Gone With the Wind. Abbe is more likeable than Scarlett, yet GWTW is still a big bestseller. :)

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