Guest Editor, Tina Gamble
Take a trip to France with one of Australia\’s most promising teen fiction authors, Isabelle Merlin, as she takes you on a tour around the country, from the heart of Paris to the quaint little countryside, to the mystical world of Avallon and beyond.
Can you give us a brief overview of your history?
I’ve lived most of my life in Australia but as a young child lived in France. (My family is of French origin, my parents moved here when I was a kid.) I have been back there several times over the years (including as a kid) on holiday and to visit family. I speak French almost as well as I speak English!
When did you first start writing? And did you always know this was the direction you wanted to take?
Yes, I think it was something that was always in my head. I always loved storiesâ€”I read heaps and also my grandmother used to tell me lots of wonderful and romantic stories about our family history. I started writing my own stories as soon as I could write wordsâ€”my early stories were nearly always about princesses in dresses made of sky and wind and wishes coming true! As a teenager I loved reading romantic thrillers and Gothic novels like those of Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. I dreamed of one day becoming a ‘real’ writer. It’s a dream that came true and I’m still stoked about it!
Did you study within the field or was writing something you just picked up?
It was something I picked up, mostly I think from reading so many books, and having so many stories told to me and practising so much as a kid, writing and writing all those stories!
Do you have a favourite writer or a novel?
It’s not easy to pick just one but two novels I loved as a teenager and still re-read with lots of pleasure are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart. In fact I love all Mary Stewart’s books, she’s probably been the biggest influence on my writing.
What does it feel like to walk into a store and see your books on the shelves?
Absolutely magic! I still can’t get over it! If ever you walk into a bookstore and see someone staring at those covers with a silly grin on their face, that’ll be me!
What is the one thing you can\’t live without?
I’m going to cheat and have two: my familyâ€”and my laptop!
All your novels take place in a different part of France, is there a reason why you chose France to host all of your novels?
Because I know France well, and I think it’s just one of the most beautiful, romantic and exciting countries in the world, with a unique culture. But I also know what it’s like feeling a bit confused about it and finding it strange and intimidating some of the timeâ€”I did when I went there as a teenager and hung out with my chic and glamorous cousins!
Say, you\’ve just been given a free pass to France for the weekend, where would you go and what would you do?
I would go to Paris (my favourite city in the whole world) to stay in a beautiful old castle hotel with my husband for a romantic weekend, walk around everywhere, go to great restaurants and shops (not just window-shop either!), have a cruise on the river, and go to one of the wonderful shows Paris puts on.
What do you enjoy the most about writing youth fiction?
You feel so free; you can have so much fun when you’re writing. I also love engaging with readersâ€”I get quite a few emails about the books, which is great.
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters?
I guess the main characters like Rose and Lucie and Fleur are a bit of me as a teenager and a bit of wish-fulfilment too (they’re much more ‘out there’ than I was, I could be a bit shy back thenâ€”not now, ha ha, they tell me!) The guysâ€”well, they’re the sorts of guys I’d have fallen in love with!
If you could describe each one of your novels in five words what would they be?
- Three Wishes: Beware when wishes come true.
- Pop Princess: Glamour, romance and danger in Paris.
- Cupid\’s Arrow: The hunter of love–or death.
With so much happening on the Internet these days, do you think it\’s important and/or useful for an author to have a website and/or be involved in social media?
Sure is! The Internet is so great for connecting with fans and keeping them up to date with what’s going on. I get lots of emails and also messages on my Facebook and Bebo pages and it’s just great getting those responses directly from readers. I also love using the internet as a creative part of my novelâ€”like with Rose’s blog in Three Wishes, and the Sepajamax band pages in Pop Princess, and the Dreaming Holmes website in Cupid’s Arrow. That creative use of the Internet has really helped to extend my characters and enrich my books, and readers seem to absolutely love that aspect of it too, makes the characters seem even more real (even to meâ€”sometimes I think I’m going to get an email from themâ€”spooky!)
You have three novels out now, what\’s up next?
Next up is number four, Bright Angel (out in April 2010.) It starts off with a terrifying encounter with a gunman in Australiaâ€”and then switches to a gorgeous, peaceful-seeming village inÂ Â France called St Bertrand de Comminges, which is in the Pyrenees (not far from the border with Spain). But of course nothing is what it seems as Sylvie, the main character, finds out very soon. And at the moment I’ve started with Free Spirit, number five, which will be set in Paris againâ€”I love going there! I’ve also got the beginnings of a plan for Heaven Scent, number six, which will be set around the perfume industry in the South of France. I’ll be going to France for research on both of those next yearâ€”yep, I know it’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it!
Ah, it sounds like the life to have. Fans should keep an eye out for Merlin\’s fourth novel, Bright Angel, which will come out early next year.In the meantime, there are three novels currently available, which will enchant and excite many teens out there.Â You can also check out her website with links to features that tie-in to each of her novels, so that fans can feel like a part of the story.
So pack your bag and grab a passport, as you take a trip to France. With adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance and glamour, it\’s a journey not to be missed!
All available now: Random House RRP$17.95