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Isobelle Carmody


"Where else in the world do you find love that lasts forever, truth, justice, honour, courage? Why do we yearn for them when there's so little evidence of them around us?" It's a reasonable question, if rhetorical. In full flight, author Isobelle Carmody is a verbal whirlwind, earlier hesitancy swept aside in proselytising zeal. "Fantasy," she says in it's-patently-obvious tones. "That's why it's so popular - we want there to be more than the real."

Suddenly she leans across the table, a contradiction of Gothic make-up and swirling white drapery that verges on the eccentric. "Good fantasy has a constant dialogue with reality but writing it - for me - is always escaping. Always. For my own sake first, not for the readers. As I'm writing the stories, I'm living them ... I'm on a quest, I'm that one person who can make a difference, who can save the world." She sits back QED-ishly, the rings on her fingers reflecting a sympathetic morse as swooping hands return to rest in her lap.

At 37, Carmody is a compact dynamo. Self-confident certainly, but an assurance drawn from hard work. Besides, her laughter is raw-boned and there's irreverent anarchy in the whimsy of dress and gypsy jewelry (all silver, on nose, ears and every finger and thumb save one - "I have to show some restraint; that's how much I have - my little finger's worth").

A rising star in the fantasy genre, she's a small-townite by choice. Big-smoke brouhaha is disconcerting; professionally cooperative, she'd still rather be beachside at her Great Ocean Road base in Apollo Bay. She's missing her four dogs, two cats and the goat she "saved from the knackery", and this Sydney cafe meeting adds to the irony. The more successful she is, the less time there is to continue being so.

Ashling, the third volume of her much-praised Obernewtyn Chronicles, hit the shops recently, and the promotional carousel is in full swing. A month-long US lecture tour has metamorphised into two more months on an all-state Oz library/school/bookshop circuit. Her head is swirling, she says, and there's a a long way to go before she can return to "the work". But the name of the game is writing; it's where she lives and for now that translates as PR. Roll on August and the six months of "blessed solitude" coming at the Keesing Writer's Studio in Paris.

Geelong-raised in a family of 10 with a "really tough, heavy-handed father and a mother with a sense of adventurousness in life", Carmody had all the responsibilities of an eldest daughter whose parents worked. It was a housing commission area where boys went to work in the factory and girls got married.

Wanting more, she bucked the system, took a degree in literature and philosophy, then worked as a journalist before quitting to "put everything on the line. I had dramatic notions - still do - that you had to say to the world 'this is what I am'. Then if you fall, you do so in front of the whole world."

Five novels later, it's clear she didn't. Her previous book, The Gathering, was last year's joint winner of the prestigious Children's Book Council's Book of the Year award for older readers: "Rich in literary and mythical allusions," the judges noted, "the language is evocative, the storytelling riveting". So far she's sold up a storm in the young adults market. Now Penguin are re-releasing her earlier books into the adult sphere. They believe success there will also be no fantasy.


This article appeared first in The Australian magazine. Copyright (c) Murray Waldren 1996


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