It’s my great pleasure today to be hosting the first stop on the blog tour for the new novel from Isobel Blackthorn, A Perfect Square, published by Odyssey Books – available for kindle from Amazon UK/US/Australia, with the paperback to follow soon.
When pianist Ginny Smith moves back to her mother’s house in Sassafras after the breakup with the degenerate Garth, synaesthetic and eccentric Harriet Brassington-Smythe is beside herself. She contrives an artistic collaboration to lift her daughter’s spirits: an exhibition of paintings and songs. Ginny reluctantly agrees.
While mother and daughter struggle with the elements of the collaborative effort, and as Ginny tries to prise the truth of her father’s disappearance from a tight-lipped Harriet, both are launched into their own inner worlds of dreams, speculations and remembering.
Meanwhile, another mother and artist, Judith, alone in a house on the moors, reflects on her own troubled past and that of her wayward daughter, Madeleine.
Set amid the fern glades and towering forests of the Dandenong ranges east of Melbourne, and on England’s Devon moors, A Perfect Square is a literary thriller of remarkable depth and insight.
“Across two continents, two sets of mothers and daughters are united by a dark mystery. A Perfect Square is a fine novel about the power of art to heal, and to disturb.” David Whish Wilson, Zero at the Bone.
I’m delighted to welcome Isobel as my guest on Being Anne, with a lovely piece she’s called “A Perfect Square forms A Perfect Circle: A Mother Daughter Collaboration”…
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King describes his muse as a fat man smoking a cigar down in his inner basement. He talked about the importance of first identifying the muse, getting to know her as a though she were a real figure, and then paying her homage by writing, every single day.
My muse is more akin to Tisiphone. She’s irascible, demanding and uncooperative. She has wild hair and runs barefoot through castles. She thrives on darkness. And I bow to her call. I think of myself as her slave. It’s a bit weird, one for the psychologist’s couch perhaps and I’ll admit I’m a survivor. Yet it’s perfectly normal all at once, at least as far as my daughter is concerned. Her muse must be my muse’s best friend.
All writers need a significant other to travel alongside them, listen, support and be ready to engage fully with their output. Writers often rely on partners. Others on writers groups. I am single and I’m not in a writers group. I don’t think Tisiphone would approve. Which might have left me in an impossible position.
What luck to have born a child who resonates so strongly creatively that as her mother I feel I’ve been twinned. Elizabeth is beside me from the inception of all my creative ideas. She helps me brainstorm plots and characters. She fleshes things out. And when I’ve produced a second draft, there she is, my Ideal Reader, giving detailed feedback.
We’ve been like this since Elizabeth reached 19 and I started to try my hand at writing, my way of reclaiming my life. By then Elizabeth was studying music improvisation at VCA. She worked hard at her craft and I at mine. It was when she commenced her Honours year that our creative lives intersected in a remarkable way.
Elizabeth has always enjoyed pushing the boundaries of the possible. The music she composes challenges her own ability to play it. In her second year she produced an album of Gothic jazz solo piano pieces. Ginninderra Press released my short story collection at about the same time. Her music and my stories seemed to meld, creating a mood, and we performed together a series of music and words shows. It was great fun but our energy for it fizzled as we each moved on to other creative projects.
She was much more ambitious in her Honours year. Her thesis had to be unique and experimental. I’d linked her to an astrological wheel depicting the signs of the zodiac, along with their supposed corresponding musical note. Aries, for example, was C. I thought it hilarious; she found it offensive. We discussed it. And out of that discussion arose an idea for her thesis.
Elizabeth had been looking for a temporal model from which to compose. I’m a non-practicing but qualified Astrologer. I have a PhD in Western Esotericism. So when I suggested to Elizabeth that she track the movements of the planets (from Jupiter to Pluto) over a period of years, and use it as a source of inspiration, she saw straight away the potential. I helped her with the tracking, and she then went on to interpret and draw inspiration and compose, the result forty-five minutes of alternative progressive rock. She put together a band, Sharrow, and taught them the pieces. She called the work Emergence and recorded it. All along her supervisors were doubtful she’d pull it off. She did. She got a First. And the band are still together and gigging in venues all over Melbourne.
My involvement with her thesis was deep and on going. I became her Ideal Reader. And out of that engagement emerged the bones of a story.
A daughter, a little bit like Elizabeth, returns to her mother’s house in the Dandenong Ranges – I was drawn to the setting because I spent a number of years living in that area and I used to drive up the mountain every week to tutor students in Sassafras – Ginny’ split up with her partner. She’s moping. Her mother, eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe, is exasperated. She wants to snap Ginny out of her mood. She proposes a collaboration of music and paintings culminating in an exhibition. An intellectual collaboration in real life became a creative one in fiction. It was all so obvious and perfect.
A Perfect Square was a novel that wrote itself. Elizabeth was once again my Ideal Reader. When I invited her to write the music to accompany the book she set to work straight away, drawing inspiration from the story.
There’s a link to access her music online in the front-end pages. And in a final twist, just as Ginny and her mother collaborated on an exhibition, so we’re launching the book and the music together at Open Studio, Northcote, Melbourne, on 22nd October, 5-7pm.
Isobel, thank you – enjoy the launch, and I wish you every success with A Perfect Square.
Elizabeth’s music to accompany the book is now available: you can purchase or listen to a free track here. It’s also available through iTunes – just search for Elizabeth Blackthorn.
A Londoner originally, Isobel Blackthorn currently resides in Melbourne, Australia. She received her BA in Social Studies from the Open University, and has a PhD in Western Esotericism. She has worked as a high school teacher, market trader and PA to a literary agent. Her writing has appeared in Backhand Stories, The Mused, On Line Opinion and Fictive Dream. Other works include the novels, Asylum and The Drago Tree, and the short story collection, All Because of You.