Like Lord Byron, John Loveheart Esquire is mad, bad and dangerous to know, but I suspect far more fun. For anyone who has not read the ‘The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart Esquire’ (so far) duology, then now is the time to strap yourself in an enjoy the Blackadder cum Mel Brookes’ Frankenstein world of an author who’s grip on reality is a matter of conjecture given the evidence of her writing that her biography reads:
Ishbelle Bee writes horror and loves fairy-tales, the Victorian period (especially top hats!) and cake tents at village fêtes (she believes serial killers usually opt for the Victoria Sponge).
She currently lives in Edinburgh. She doesn’t own a rescue cat, but if she did his name would be Mr Pickles.
I was fortunate enough lure Ishbelle in for an interview on her whirlwind blog tour, and even more fortunate to emerge with my head still attached to my body. So many in her new book The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl were not so lucky.
Tell me about your background…
I was raised on Blackadder, Red Dwarf, Carry On Films and Gene Wilder movies, which have all greatly influenced my writing. A film which I loved was THE ZANY ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1984) –
“After all, popes handle it, men in prison handle it…”
“Please, not in front of the peasants.”
I loved the blatant disregard for any historical accuracy.
My background has given me opportunities to read/study a lot of books as I studied for an Art and English Literature Degree and then went on to do an MA in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century English Literature. I trained as an art teacher and then went on to study a PhD looking at the work of Philip K. Dick (which I need to finish at some-point.) This really inspired me and I hope has helped refine my own writing.
What is the fascination of fairy tales and horror for you?
Fairy tales and horror for me go hand in hand. The fascination for me is the frightening and the wonderful. Fairy tales have so many scenarios within them of transformations and frightening, strange characters that you can be enchanted and horrified at the same time.
Your writing style is very unusual and might have put off a publisher because it does not sit within what is understood to be the horror or fantasy genre. Would you talk about the process from writing to being published?
I wrote The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath during 2012 and it took a year to write as I was working full-time and it was written in tiny sections. In 2013 I started looking for a literary agent (at this point I had written The Contrary Tale of The Butterfly Girl and was half way through the third of the Loveheart series). It took six months to find and sign with an agency.
It was challenging finding a publisher for Mirror & Goliath because a lot of publishers said my work wasn’t commercial enough for them, so I was very lucky when Angry Robot said they were interested. My work is unusual and doesn’t fit with the standard tropes under the traditional and commercial categorizations of fantasy. I’m glad it doesn’t. I don’t want it to be like everyone else’s.
Where do you characters come from?
My odd imagination, and subconsciously probably from all that weird British TV I used to watch.
Are your characters so real to you that you have no trouble visualising them, or do you have to create character description.
My characters are incredibly real to me and I have no problems visualizing them or imagining their odd conversations and bickering with one another.
How do you bring each individual character to life?
The only literary technique I can think of which I am aware of implementing is the manipulation with the text to make their voices distinct. For example, Tumbletee’s words fragment on the page to emphasize lunacy.
I want each character to be very distinct, really unique, even the very minor ones. And I want them to enhance one another with their individual eccentricities. My work is character based and the historical setting is secondary – working as a backdrop for the characters.
Your books are full of dozens of events. How do you prevent these becoming monotonous, but at the same time preventing the literary equivalent of sensory overload on your reader?
I don’t have any strategy that I am aware of to counterbalance sensory overloads or monotonous twaddle. I write scenarios that I find interesting and hope the reader does. Perhaps I am quite a selfish writer as I write what amuses me and don’t really consider the reader much in the process.
All these events shift backwards and forwards (certainly made more complex in the second book by a spot of time travel). How do you choreograph this to make sure there is overall continuity?
I try not to overthink what I am doing. If I reread a chapter and think ‘hang on – what the hell is going on here?’ then I will rewrite or tighten up the scenario.
Your characters and narrative are completely outrageous. How do you manage not to go so over the top the whole scene or story become ridiculous and just doesn’t hang together?
I think if it feels too slapstick, I change it so the balance is better but the process is overall quite natural.
How do you successfully blend high comedy and horrendous, horrific situations and what do you think this brings to a narrative?
I love comedy and horror. I think they accentuate one another if the balance is correct. The trick is getting that balance right which links with the last question – if it feels off then it probably is and needs rebalancing.
How have you found the editing process?
My first editor for MIRROR & GOLIATH was Lee Harris (now at Tor) whose comments were very wise and supportive. My second editor was Phil Jourdan for The Butterfly Girl whose approach was intelligent and direct and grasped the mania of the characters and what I was trying to achieve.
What will you be doing next?
I am writing a book on the Scottish witch trials, which is part historical research and part fairy tale.