Sunday, January 24, 2016
The Drago Tree Excerpt & Interview with Isobel Blackthorn
Book: The Drago Tree
Author: Isobel Blackthorn
Publisher: Odyssey Books
Haunted by demons past and present, geologist Ann Salter seeks sanctuary on the exotic island of Lanzarote. There she meets charismatic author Richard Parry and indigenous potter Domingo, and together they explore the island.
Ann’s encounters with the island’s hidden treasures becomes a journey deep inside herself as she struggles to understand who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.
Set against a panoramic backdrop of dramatic island landscapes and Spanish colonial history, The Drago Tree is an intriguing tale of betrayal, conquest and love, in all its forms.
Below is an exclusive interview with author Isobel Blackthorn
Q: What genres have you covered so far in your writing and what genres would you like to experiment with in the future?
Isobel Blackthorn: So far I have written my version of a tragicomic drama and a tragicomic romance, and a suspense/thriller and a Gothic horror novel. I’m currently at work on a mystery crime novel. I plan to write a romp, but I think I’ll have to find myself in a very lighthearted mood to do it. I’d like to experiment with magic realism one day.
Q: How much research did you have to do for The Drago Tree?
IB: There was an enormous amount of research involved, everything from the history of the setting, through to the geology, the geography and the culture. Fortunately I used to live on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco and where the story is set, but that was twenty-five years ago. I trawled through scores of websites in English and in Spanish, watched Youtube videos, read numerous books and spent a lot of time on Google maps. I did my absolute best to be accurate about every single detail.
Q: How many drafts do you go through to reach the final version of your book?
IB: I write a first draft, which takes me several months. This version is usually sketchy and there is much to develop. I set that draft aside for a few weeks or months while I work on something else. To get the story to a second draft phase and ready for beta readers, takes me three runs through. I attend to revisions, embellish where needed (my first draft is generally only about 45,000 words), next I craft the sentences and paragraphs, then I go through the text looking for anything that jars.
Once I have some feedback from my beta readers, I go through the text twice more, the last time perfecting every single thing I can find. If I still find things to fix on every page, then I go through it again and again, until looking at it makes me feel physically sick. That’s when I decide to send it to my publisher.
Q: What are you currently working on?
IB: I am working on a mystery crime novel. It’s the sequel to The Drago Tree. I had started out thinking I’d try my hand at crime, which scared me quite a bit as crime readers are a very exacting group and there are numerous fabulous crime writers out there. Once I’d started to re-engage with my characters, I, or rather we, decided to head more in the direction of mystery. Although there is certainly an element of crime and so far the story seems to have the energy of a crime novel too. I’ll have to see how it turns out.
Q: You mention in your bio that the occult tends to find a way into your writing, which of your novels have that theme? Would you consider writing a full paranormal novel?
IB: There are elements of the paranormal in The Drago Tree. At the time of writing, I was captivated by Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, although I wouldn’t call my novel magic realism. I don’t know if I would write a paranormal novel but anything is possible! The occult features most strongly in my next novel, A Perfect Square, due for release in 2016.
Q: What countries would you like to visit in the future?
IB: I am about to fly to back to Lanzarote, the first time in twenty-six years. I’m also visiting Scotland, which I am very excited about. I’ll be staying in Edinburgh, a city I have not yet visited, and I’m told filled with bookshops! I adore beautiful scenery and dry climates. I’d love to visit Canada and Eastern Europe. Then there’s North Africa – Morocco perhaps. And I’m more and more fascinated by the Middle East, with all of its rich cultures. A tragedy what’s happening there.
An excerpt from The Drago Tree
Heading back to Haría, Ann took the circuitous route, driving north along the coast road that skirts the edge of La Corona’s outpourings. The solitude—there was no other car in sight—interrupted by that annoyingly cautionary school mistress lodged in her head, berating her for accepting Richard’s invitation.
Before long, La Corona swept into view to the west, singular in the landscape, a decapitated cone of russet-black rock. Ann drove slowly, taking in the malpais, a lava plain sustaining only lichens and euphorbias, the shore-side broken now and then by pockets of creamy sand. With La Corona in view to her left, the ocean to the right, the scene was primordial. Travelling by car seemed out of joint with these surroundings. She felt an impulse to throw her arms wide and yell into the wind. Yet there were few places to pull over.
Another kilometre and she spotted a turning up ahead. She slowed and eased the car into a small and empty parking bay. She left the car and followed a narrow path through boulder and scree to a lick of white sand nearby. The beach felt desolate, the silence cut by the wind and the slap of small waves.
She stood at the waterline, watching the gentle swell, the black terrain closing in all around her, and the misgivings she felt in accepting Richard’s dinner invitation gave way to a familiar moiling. She yearned to expunge the hurt that had taken up residence in her heart like an unwelcome lodger. Running away from her marriage hadn’t achieved much. She had distance, but she was still who she was, who’d she’d allowed herself to become. Two decades of study and research, in recent years wading through the murky waters of the Isis, all the while paddling about in the murk of her personal life and suffering the occasional flood. He’d frightened her this time, with that frustrated fist of his in their final row. What was that about? Burnt toast? It might as well have been. They’d been arguing the same old ground. It always came down to her career and his ego.
She wanted to forget. Let this atmosphere of tremendous isolation consume her. She thought she must be the only living creature on this beach; she saw no birds, no lizards, no crabs, not even a fly. She took a deep breath of the cooling ocean air then slipped off her sandals and paddled her feet in the wash, enjoying the chill and the gentle push and pull.
Her thoughts wandered back to the night before she left Willinton for the airport. Too distraught to stay another moment in her house, she spent those hours ensconced in her office with nothing to occupy her frazzled mind. So she’d researched the island—its topography, its geology, its history—trawling the tourism sites, frustrated by the shallow summaries and contradictory information, eventually stumbling on a book freely available with the noble title The Canarian. Two pages in, immersed in the journals of two priests who had set sail on the voyage that conquered Lanzarote, she’d forgotten the Hydrology Centre, her tattered marriage, the tumult of her heart.
Now she was here, it was easy to imagine that past. Beyond the bay, the wind and the ocean swell pushed south, the flow of the Atlantic perfect sailing for the ambitious conqueror, Juan Bethencourt. The year was 1402 when he set sail, determined to take possession of the Fortunate Islands on behalf of any kingdom willing to strike a good deal.
Marauding Spanish adventurers covetous of the profits procured from dyes and slaves had long favoured Lanzarote. Beholding the ocean, she could imagine the sickening undertow in the bellies of the beleaguered islanders each time they saw a ship on the horizon. Guadarfia, the island’s king and ruler of a peaceful and amiable tribe of one thousand islanders, was understandably tired of the pillaging and enslavement of his people. When he met with Bethencourt he granted permission for the conquering party to stay and build a fort in the island’s south in exchange for the islanders’ protection. It must have seemed to Guadarfia a reasonable agreement. Neither man could have foreseen the treachery that lay ahead.
She walked along the shore with her feet in the shallows, picking her way around the smattering of black boulders, scanning about for a small rock to take with her. She went out on the flat rocks that flanked the bay, then slipped on her sandals and picked her way into the malpais. She didn’t get far. The terrain was impossible.
Returning to the waterline, she ambled about some more. She wanted to take with her something distinct but, like the tourists, the rocks were uniform. Eventually she settled on a pebble of grey-black basalt partially embedded in the sand. The pebble was smooth and cold and oddly comforting. She put it in her pocket and went back to the car.
After another sandy cove, the road curved east and she drove towards the barren massif that ran along the western coast. The sun backlit the massif, the ridge silhouetted against streaks of apricot merging into the azure of the sky. Several calderas pimpled the land to the southwest. The lava plain, to the south of her now, rose to meet its mother, La Corona, a monolith of black in the fading light.
She felt herself expand in the face of what she saw. Ever since her first geology field trip in the Lake District she had known there exists something profound and ineffable in the relationship between nature and the human beholder, a capacity to feel exhilarated by nature’s beauty, as if she could transcend her little life in the face of the earth’s grandeur. A picturesque scene of rolling green and copses of oaks; a paradise of tropical rainforest meeting turquoise lagoon; the drama and majesty of rugged mountains and cliffs; the desert plains of Australia, vast and unchanging in every direction; or like here, a simplicity of contrast. Nature never failed to seduce Ann with its charm.
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Note: Book review of The Drago Tree to come soon, but from this excerpt I have a big feeling I'll enjoy it!