Thursday, July 15, 2010
Interview with Isabel Wolff and book giveaway
"A Vintage Affair" was a recent "Recommended Reads Main Selection" from Barnes & Noble. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by a publisher named Sharon Propson about doing an interview with Isabel Wolff about this highly recommended new novel that was recently released in the USA. I was honored to receive such an opportunity to get to know this lovely woman better. And Sharon has 3 copies to give to some lucky readers in the USA and Canada.
MA: How did it feel to have "A Vintage Affair" listed as the Barnes & Noble Recommended Reads Main Selection title?
IW: I was completely gobsmacked - I had no idea that it was such a prestigious promotion or that my novel would be in such distinguished company - so I was utterly thrilled. But the main thing I felt was undying gratitude to all the Barnes & Noble booksellers who chose it out of so many books. If any of you are reading this - I not only thank you - I kiss you!!
MA: What were the first steps you took toward writing novels? (Classes, workshops, self-discipline, etc.?)
IW: I've never done any creative writing courses, but I was a journalist for a long time, and I'm sure that being a professional writer helped when it came to writing fiction. I had learned how to conduct research thoroughly, and how to sew it in to the writing in a light but interesting way; I'd also learned how to structure and shape a story, and to write under pressure - so I'm sure all that helped. But the main thing that got me started as a novelist was in 1997 when I was asked to write a comic girl-about-town column for the Daily Telegraph - Tiffany Trott. I had no idea that it would ever become a book, but HarperCollins liked it and asked me to turn it into a novel, which became 'The Trials of Tiffany Trott'.
MA: What were some challenges you came across while writing "A Vintage Affair?" How did you work through them?
IW: It was a challenge to write a novel that was semi-historical, and which would go from past to present in a fluent way - so I lighted on the poignant story of Mrs Bell's little blue coat as the device by which I would do this. But I think the main challenge was the seriousness of the themes. All my novels have a lot of poignancy in them alongside the comedy, but in 'A Vintage Affair' I knew that the period story would go back to the War and would in fact involve the Holocaust. I was worried about introducing such a sombre strand into a book that is, essentially, lighter fiction. There's also a tragedy in the contemporary part of the novel, and I had to be careful that these two sadnesses - Mrs Bell's and Phoebe's - did not overwhelm the story. I therefore had to make sure that there were enough lighter elements - largely through some of the characters who come into Phoebe's shop; and of course through the gloriously glamourous vintage clothes that Phoebe sells - particularly the colourful 'cupcake' dresses - each of which has a story of its own. Above all I wanted 'A Vintage Affair' to be a touching and uplifting read with a lot of powerful emotion along the way. I would say that it's a story of fashion, friendship, regret and redemption.
MA: Can you relate to either Phoebe or Therese? Are you similar to either of these women?
IW: I relate to them both inasmuch as they are both struggling with losses in their lives; but in their cases they each feel a huge degree of personal responsibility alongside the grief because they feel that they betrayed their best friend - unto death. Nothing quite as terrible as that has happened in my own life, but I tried to engage with both women in a profound way, to imagine their pain and regret - regret that in Mrs Bell's case has lasted 65 years - so that they feel real and authentic to the reader. Phoebe and Therese are both suffering, and both are hoping to be redeemed, and this search for redemption - in particular Phoebe's determination to uncover the mystery of what happened to Mrs Bell's schoolfriend Monique in 1943 - is what drives this book.
MA: If "A Vintage Affair" were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?
IW: Kate Winslet would probably be my first choice for Phoebe in looks, sensibility and style; I think the beautiful French actress Stephane Audran would make a fabulous Mrs Bell. I can see Matthew Macfadyen as the eccentric but attractive journalist Dan and Greg Wise as the suave lawyer Miles.
Just for Fun:
MA: Do you own any vintage articles of clothing? If so, what is your favorite? Or do you have a story behind one of these items that you'd like to share?
IW: I've always worn and collected vintage and still have a Biba mini skirt that I bought when I was at school - the best 50p I ever spent. When I was a student I bought a 1920s black lace flapper dress and loved it to bits - literally - it fell to pieces because the fabric was so fragile and I didn't store it properly. My favourite vintage garment is the dress that my grandmother had made to wear to my mother's wedding. It's made of thick grey 'sateen' - a kind of grosgrain satin - and I've worn it quite a bit over the years. In fact I wore it to the UK launch of 'A Vintage Affair'. When my own daughter, Alice, is older, I shall give it to her.
MA: Where is your favorite place to purchase clothing?
IW: My favourite vintage dress shops are both in Notting Hill - 'Dolly Diamond' and 'Rellik'. I live round the corner from Portobello Road and love browsing the vintage stalls on the market there - especially the vintage handbags. The problem with vintage clothes though is that they tend to run small because women were smaller in years gone by so I find that it's hard to get things to fit. My favourite non-vintage clothing store is Marilyn Moore, and I like American Vintage too. I also love the vintage website Zuburbia.
MA: What do you consider to be the most important elements of a friendship?
IW: Affection and of course loyalty; also reciprocity, by which I mean a deep interest in each other's lives. I think tact is very important too - just because we know someone very well doesn't give us the right to question their taste in clothes, music and men etc. - we hope for our friends to make us feel a better about ourselves, not worse. True friends will not sit in judgment on us, but will support us, more or less whatever, just as we support them. A shared sense of humour is an important element too.
MA: What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday evening?
IW: In the summer time we love going to Holland Park Opera - it's open air and quite wonderful - we've just seen a fantastic production of Don Giovanni. I also like going to the National Theatre not least because I love being down on London's South Bank. If we're not going out then we play table football.
MA: What is the last thing you had a really good laugh about?
IW: Watching Mr. Bean with my children.
Now that you know more about Isabel Wolff and some background behind her book, please comment below for a chance to win a copy. For US and Canada residents only.
(Please note: Entries without an e-mail address will NOT be counted.)
For additional entries (each as a separate comment including your e-mail address, as well):
1. Please tell us: What is the most vintage item you own (doesn't have to be clothing)?
2. Follow this blog and post a comment saying you are a follower (if you already follow, that's fine too).
3. Post this contest on Facebook or Twitter or in your blog, and leave a comment saying where you've posted it.
Giveaway ends Monday, July 19th at 6:00 pm EST.
Thanks again to Isabel for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully.
Also thanks to Sharon Propson for providing books for the giveaway.
"A Vintage Affair" is published by Bantam Dell in hardcover