Interview: Angelique Kasmara talks about Isobar Precinct
Isobar Precinct by Angelique Kasmara is shortlisted for the NZ Booklovers Fiction Award for 2022. Angelique talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about your novel.
Isobar Precinct centres on Lestari, a tattoo artist operating out of a small studio in Auckland’s Karangahape Road with business partner Frank. They’ve been having a rough time of it, hit by constant burglaries. A teenage runaway, Jasper, is camped under the stairs and there’s an awkward attraction between her and her friend Tom, a married cop. Her father isn’t in the picture, having disappeared over a decade ago, while her mother is living a lost, self-medicated life, relying on Lestari to check that her bills are paid on time.
The action starts with her, Frank and Jasper witnessing a man stabbing another to death in a cemetery. Things quickly get complicated thereon: what Lestari uncovers next plunges her into a murky world involving illegal drug trials, bombings and disruptive technologies. Eventually she finds all the threads of her life shaken around to reveal more than what she’s been seeing.
Genre-wise, the novel starts off as crime fiction, but reveals its speculative nature early in the piece. It’s fast paced, and I also had some fun with the various turns of plot. I hope it also gives a bit of insight into those often overlooked and shunted to society’s margins.
What inspired you to write this book?
So many things! Karangahape Road, and all the different people I’ve met there over the years were a huge inspiration. Kindred by Octavia Butler, and Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang (which was made into the film Arrival) - love those authors! I’d been reading about the DMT trials in the 1970’s in DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, which led me to speculate what would happen if such a trial had gone underground - would a good psychiatrist turn bad? I’d been looking into the Sackler family and the opioid crisis. And finally, a few discussions with a criminal lawyer friend of mine over the frustration of eye witness evidence over forensic / CCTV evidence sparked a few ideas regarding the storyline. I also wanted to explore what it feels like to have the burden of choice sitting on your shoulders. And to show the lack of protection given to the vulnerable.
What research was involved?
Apart from a lot of reading on a variety of subjects connected with the book, I also listened to many of the Fact or Fiction lectures, which are a collaboration between the McDiarmid Institute on RNZ, where scientists take an idea from fiction and discuss whether it stands up to scientific scrutiny with the host. They’re great fun and I also learned a lot too…even if only how to get away with crazy ideas in a fictional universe! I spoke to a number of other people as well, from NZPC to ACOS to get a feel for what they do and the kinds of situations they regularly come across.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
When I first started writing the book, my son was 3 years old so I became really adept at working on a paragraph at a time in between chores, having to instantly switch in and out of ‘character’, and store ideas and sentences in my head to write down later. This would no doubt be a terrible process for other writers, but I have a pretty short attention span so it actually worked well for me.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Ten Rays by King Loser and Ladies & gentlemen, we are floating in space by Spiritualized.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Just the best actors for their roles, who fully inhabit their characters. Also, I would insist on not whitewashing any of them. Those cops from Wellington Paranormal could have a cameo though. I can see them having a drink with one of Lestari’s wayward tattoos at the Local, looking more than a little bit lost.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
It’s a really good feeling to have all the things released out of the holding pen in my head, where they were getting kind of ratty and a bit worse for wear, onto the page where they belong.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
After the last edits were done, I had to get straight onto all the other deadlines I’d been ignoring and finish those before anyone fired me, so didn’t properly celebrate until the book was published. I’d been all set for a launch In August 2021 after I received my copies from my publisher. When I heard we were about to go into lockdown, I cycled around delivering copies to a few people as a thank you for their help. Then I had a little Zoom party with a few of my friends during lockdown. We drank bubbles. There may have been a sore head or two afterwards.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Unsheltered by Clare Moleta, and Entanglement by Bryan Walpert were fantastic. Such complex and complete worlds.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have the beginnings of an idea for another book, sparked by my cousins and I talking about how we have family in Brazil who we’ve never met, who left after the genocide in 1965-66 in Indonesia (as our families did also).
The Cuba Press