Wellington’s own Kara Isaac, contemporary romance author of Close to You and the just released Can’t Help Falling, chats to NZ Booklovers abut Narnia, writing and some of her favourite things.
Can’t Help Falling centres around two Narnia fans. What is your relationship with this classic series?
I’ve loved the Chronicles of Narnia since I was a little girl. My first memory of a movie that made me cry was watching The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe on TV when I was about seven years old. When my editor liked my pitch of a novel incorporating the famous series it was both a dream come true and incredibly daunting!
You wrote a book with a hero who is a rower, a sport you knew nothing about, set in Oxford, where you’ve never been. Why did you choose the unfamiliar for your story? What was your greatest challenge in doing so?
The location pretty much chose itself. My first book, Close To You, is set in New Zealand and had a J.R.R. Tolkien/Lord of the Rings theme. During my research I learned that Tolkien and Lewis met while both teaching at Oxford University and struck up a close friendship. So when we decided the two books would be thematically linked by those two great series and authors Oxford was a natural setting.
The biggest challenge was probably knowing that even though I did huge amounts of research to try and get the details right it was inevitable that I would get something wrong! Even if it was just because something changed in the twelve months between me turning in the manuscript and Can’t Help Falling being released. As a reader, there’s nothing that annoys me more than authors of other nationalities writing New Zealand (or Australian) characters who clearly just aren’t so I’m dreading that first email from a rower or someone who lives in Oxford telling me what it is in the book that made them go “this author has no idea what she’s talking about”!
Funnily enough, shortly before Can’t Help Falling was released I got an email from my editor about how a reviewer had sent her a heads up that there was a problem. Reepicheep (Peter’s cat) was described as a male calico and this was genetically impossible. It had never occurred to me in a million years to fact check that one! Fortunately, it turned out that the reviewer was wrong. Male calicos are very rare (approximately one in four thousand) but are possible. But when I opened that email all I could think was “Of all the research I did for this book and I got THE CAT wrong!”
Are you a Susan or a Lucy?
Personality wise I’m definitely more of a Susan in terms of being a bit more reserved and an introvert until I get to know people well. But I would like to think that I would hold onto Narnia the way that Lucy did and never stop believing!
If you could spend time with any character in the book, who would it be? What would you do?
Ahhhhh, that feels like being asked which of my children I would most like to spend time with! It would probably be Ally, who was the heroine of Close To You and a main secondary character in Can’t Help Falling. I love the way that she calls a spade a spade, her sense of humour, and her growth as a character between the two books. Since she works at Oxford University I’d be hoping for a behind the scenes tour – especially of the C.S. Lewis manuscript collections. Then anywhere with some great food and wine would be perfect.
You’re a busy, working mum, and this is your second novel. How do manage to fit writing in?
Most of my writing is done at night, once the kids are in bed, and I know I have a good chunk of time to be able to focus and get into the story. When I’m on a big deadline crunch I take time off the “day job” and hole up somewhere for days at a time where I can’t be distracted. Can’t Help Falling got rewritten last summer during a week of self-imposed exile on the second floor of the Wellington Central Library.
What’s your writing quirk?
I can’t write in a study/office. I have friends who have these beautiful writing rooms that look like something off Pinterest and all very professional and “authorly” (if that’s a word!). I’ve tried it and it just didn’t work. I do 95% of my writing either on our bed or on one of our couches, where I can be comfortable and spread out a lot.
What’s your favourite place in Wellington, your hometown?
Do I have little people with me? If so any playground on a nice day! With other grown ups or by myself I’m a big fan of Café Polo in Miramar. When I’m in the final stages of book edits you can probably find me there with some yummy food, while wielding a red pen and a lot of sticky tabs!
And your favourite, feel-good, early millennium romantic comedy? (They just don’t make them like they used to!)
Never Been Kissed (which technically was 1999 but hopefully you’ll let me have it!) That scene at the end where Michael Vartan is late to the baseball diamond and Drew Barrymore is standing there as the clock counts down and he doesn’t come? Every time I watch the movie I re-watch that scene three or four times. That happy, misty-eyed, ahhhhh feeling that I get when I watch that scene is the kind of feeling I want my readers to have when they finish one of my books.
What are you reading right now?
I always have multiple books on the go so I have something to suit whatever reading mood I’m in. After six months of having it sitting on my bedside table, I’ve finally started Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. At various stages of completion are also Becky Wade’s Her One and Only, Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect and Denise Hunter’s The Goodbye Bride.