The drama of family is once again central as Chichester novelist Isabel Ashdown explores the idea of “the mother who leaves” in her latest work.
Flight, published by Myriad Editions, is Isabel’s fourth published novel in six years.
“There have been a few books about mothers that leave, and it has been something that has always intrigued me,” Isabel says. “We live in a society where we can almost accept it when a man walks out, but there is always something very difficult to compute when it is the woman that walks out on her family. It’s interesting that in that case we are almost unforgiving.
“I was discussing with friends another book in which a mother disappears, and there were some among us saying they couldn’t stand the character as soon as she walks away. But there were others of us that were saying ‘OK, I would never do that, but I get what she has done.’ I am also endlessly fascinated by those TV programmes and documentaries about people finding their families after a long time, after being separated in infancy. I have always been interested in the drama of family, something that always comes up in my books.”
Isabel put it all together and came up with Wren, a woman whose numbers come up in the first-ever National Lottery draw. She doesn’t tell her husband Rob. Instead she quietly packs her bags, kisses her six-month-old daughter Phoebe goodbye and leaves. Two decades later, Rob has moved on and found happiness with their oldest friend Laura. Phoebe, now a young woman, has never known any other life. But when Rob receives a mysterious letter, the past comes back to haunt them all.
“I had this idea of what if you suddenly won a significant amount of money and were in the state of mind to make the decision to just leave. That’s the ‘what if’ of the book. Wren wins the lottery and decides to go. We then move forward to the year of the 20th anniversary of the lottery to what is happening now with Wren, the daughter she left, the husband she left and also the best friend. The starting point is that Wren is a young woman with a fairly-happy marriage with a six-month-old baby. But without giving too much away, when things open, we know she is not in a good place. There is something that isn’t right for her...”
For Isabel, part of the fascination has been getting to know the character as she wrote her story: “When I wrote it, I didn’t know how it was going to unfold until I started getting the words down on the page. Very often I will start with the basic premise, and then it is not until I start properly writing that I know where the story goes. I have no idea what the end point will be. I won’t usually have a sense of that until I am half-way through. What I found in my early days as a writer was that if I tried to plot and really carefully map out what was going to happen, it became a stranglehold for me creatively. I was just going from A to B to C to D. When I start with an open mind, now and again I might make choices I have to go back to, but I find new characters along the way, and I find new facets of my main character that I didn’t know anything about.”
Isabel’s debut Glasshopper was named as one of the best books of 2009 by the Observer and the London Evening Standard.