Saturday, 23 February 2013

Isabelle Rowan's Casting Couch Interview

A black cat for a witch may be a cliché, but add a whole bunch of tribal tattoos and an intolerance to garlic (seriously), and you have Isabelle Rowan.

Having moved to Australia from England as a small child, Isabelle now lives in a seaside suburb of Melbourne where she teaches film making and English. She is a movie addict who spends far too much money on traveling… but then again, life is to be lived.

How did you get started in writing? What made you decide to submit your first story and what was your experience with that? Who was the first person you told when you got your first contract? What was their reaction?

Although I wrote a lot as a child, I didn’t really start again until I discovered real person fanfic. I scribbled away quite happily with that for several years until someone suggested I submit a vampire story I’d written to Dreamspinner Press. Ink was just a short story back then, but I got the taste for it.

A Note in the Margin was my first novel and I cannot describe how it felt when I got the acceptance email. I was on holiday in Texas and told my good friend Bee. We happy danced and giggled for quite a while after!

Submitting my writing is still as terrifying as that first time, but nothing beats holding a book with your name on the cover. I still do a happy dance!

Where does your inspiration come from for your books?

Inspiration is a strange animal. It can appear when you least expect it and sometimes when you don’t want it. It can be as simple as a passing comment or an interesting person in a coffee shop. I’m a chronic daydreamer, always have been, so I find things play around in my head until I realize I have to write about them!

How do you make the important choices when it comes to writing your stories? Point of View? Voice? Theme? Title?

Generally it is the muse that makes these decisions. I get a character speaking to me and if I try to fight it, the story just doesn’t work.

With A Note in the Margin I made a conscious decision to have changing points of view because so much of the story is internal. I received a lot of criticism for that writing style and some praise, but hey, it felt right for me. Still does.

Often how I write it is just whoever shouts the loudest in my head!

The themes are always personal. Finding who you are, being brave and looking for someone who will accept you and love you – even my vampires!

The titles… argh! I hate trying to come up with titles. It’s great when they are obvious early on in the writing stage, but that rarely happens. The Road to Byron had so many titles until I settled on that one. I don’t have any logical process for choosing – simply what feels like a good fit.

Are your characters purely fictional, or do you sample from people you've met in real life? Which one of your characters is most like you? How so?

A bit of both. INK was the first story I specifically based characters on real people. Abby and Scott are both based on very much real people. I had a lot of fun with that because the body language, catch phrases and even smiles were there for me to be used. Other characters are often amalgamations of people I’ve known. Craig in The Road to Byron is a mash up of every surfer teenage boy I went to school with!

David from A Note in the Margin comes from many sources. Men I’ve known, and men I’ve seen. He is one of my favourites because I want to help him and keep him safe.

Most like me? Oh dear, that gives away far too much! Hmmm I said once that Matthew from Byron is very like me in his search to be braver, but perhaps there’s a lot of me in my new character Daniel. He’s in The Red Heart. He’s a Goth guy from Melbourne searching for a way to make his life whole - move on to a new phase in his life. Finding and accepting who we are is a recurrent theme for me and I guess that has to come from somewhere! ;)

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

Having the courage to let other people read what I write! Simple as that! INK is perhaps the work I feel most proud of because I finally got to write my vampires. Galen in particular because he became much more than I originally intended – and he made me cry at the end.

If you could co-author a book with any other writer, who would it be?

That’s such a hard question! I have so many authors I admire.

There are some who I have known for a lot of years such as Ariel Tachna, Zahra Owens and Nicki Bennett. They would be a joy to write with!

I’m currently writing with a new author – it’s still in the early stages, but so far so good!

What is the one book that you think that very few people have read but everyone should read? What are you reading right now?

My absolute favourite book is LostSouls by Poppy Z Brite, but a book I loved that not many people may know is TheRaw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. Both books kept me thinking long after I closed them. Always a good sign.

Right now I’m revisiting AmericanGods by Neil Gaiman.

What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?

Time is always a constraint. Add to that the fact I’m a chronic self-editor. I spend far too much time puzzling over a tiny aspect or phrase.

I have to be true to the character, even if it means I have to change the path of the book. David in A Note in the Margin did that to me a lot! I trashed a whole chapter once because I forced him in a direction he wasn’t willing to go. I know I sound like a total nutter with voices in my head, but it’s true – not the nutter part. Well maybe….

I also have the attention span of a goldfish.

What is a typical working day like for you? Where do you write? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you set certain writing goals? Are there any specific tools you use to help you write?

I work full time as a high school teacher. Writing has to be done in stolen moments or in cafes during the weekend. I love writing in cafes and my local has a long black coffee started for me before I even order it. I have managed to train myself to write whenever I get the chance, but if I’m really not in the mood, I go back and edit. That will often generate more ideas.

I have no specific tools or plans. I really admire those who can plot out their writing in advance. My mind just doesn’t work that way. I may have a vague idea, but it always changes once the characters take control.

For some reason my new novella was the easiest thing I’ve ever written. The characters were very clear to me and, with the help of Sisters of Mercy on my Ipod, the words came and the story flowed. Hey! There’s a tool – music! Every book I’ve ever written has its own soundtrack.

What is your greatest guilty pleasure (literary or otherwise)?

A good horror story. I’ve always had a thing for dangerous non-sparkling vampires and was raised watching Hammer Horror films. Lately I’ve been hooked on The Walking Dead.

Another guilty pleasure would have to be Viggo Mortensen. Listen to him reciting his Spanish poetry and you’ll know what I mean!

And…last but not least: What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you in the coming year?

Right now I’m working on a new novel based on my Snowman short story and a third book in the A Note in the Margins series – this one is more about Jamie. You can keep track of my progress on my website:

I have a new novella coming out March 13 called The Red Heart. It can be bought as a stand-alone novella or part of the Under the Southern Cross package of Australian authors. It is the story of Daniel an ex-junkie Goth from Melbourne who travels to the outback of Australia. He meets Sam who is returned soldier. Together they walk to the Red Heart of Australia, Uluru.

Here is an excerpt here Daniel meets an old stockman called Bob:

         Daniel watched the men run up and down the makeshift footy ground, not totally sure who was on what side and it didn’t seem to matter. They shouted good-natured abuse, made illegal tackles, and laughed a lot.
“You are a strange pair,” Bob said quietly out of the blue.
“I just met him yesterday. Well, the day before, I guess,” Daniel said and turned to look at Bob.
“That doesn’t mean you’re not a pair. You are like two halves of a story waiting to be told.”
Daniel frowned and shook his head, even though the comment started a little tickle in his belly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Okay,” Bob started. “Tell me about your pictures, the ones I see peeping out from your sleeves—and I’m guessing they’re on other parts of your body.”
For some strange reason, Daniel almost tugged the fabric down over his arms to hide his tattoos. He’d never felt like that before, but it was as if Old Bob could see right through him. “I was a tattooist in Chapel Street a few years ago.”
“But why do you wear them?”
“I just said—”
Bob cut him short with a gentle but determined voice. “That doesn’t tell me why. How about I tell you what I see?”
Daniel shrugged because, although he was nervous what the old man might say, he was curious.
“Armor. You wear your tattoos like a suit of armor and the metal in your face like spikes. You want to warn the world to stay away, although it’s not what you really need. Am I close?”
Too fucking close, Daniel thought, but said a quiet “Maybe.”
“It works, for the most part, but what about here?” Bob thumped his hand against his old chest. “Doesn’t that leave you hollow inside? Isn’t that why you’re heading for the rock?”
For all the time spent in counseling, the old stockman hit the nail on the head in those few minutes. Daniel couldn’t answer and was forced to turn his gaze back to the men in the dust, arguing if a shot was a goal or a point.
“Samuel is a different story.”
“In what way?” Daniel asked quietly, watching the man laugh and take off with the ball.
“He has a heart as big as the rock, but no armor. He lost it. No, that’s not right. Sam’s armor was blasted from him and now he feels everything just a little too much.”
“Is that why he’s out here?”
“That’s why you’re both out here. You have to do this journey together. Take him with you tomorrow.”
“Doesn’t he have a job to do here?” Daniel said, even though the thought of Sam traveling with him filled a little of the hollow.
“All jobs can wait. He’ll go with you. He likes you, and besides, you’ll need him to show you the way.”
“The highway is a very straight road. I don’t think I’ll get lost.”
“But you can’t go that way, Daniel. It’s walkabout time for you.”
“Ah, I don’t think so,” Daniel stated and looked around at the stockman’s very serious expression.
“You came for a reason, but it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important. Trust me, Daniel, walk to the rock and you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

Visit Isabelle on her blog at
Pre-order your copy of The Red Heart here: 
Or as part of the Under The Southern Cross Anthology here: 


  1. Interesting interview and loved the excerpt. *waves to Isabelle from across the ditch*

  2. Lovely interview, and I can totally hear Isabelle's voice saying all those things. One of the rewards of having met her in person!