#103 Catherine Isaac + Tom Rachman
It's funny how themes emerge when guests get paired together.
Most often, the date I schedule a guest appearance is based on their book pub date and so we get these funny coincidences when I sit down to write the show notes. Both Catherine Isaac and Tom Rachman have written books that have a troubled father-son relationship at the center, and both of them write novels that allowed them to explore topics that were very deep and personal.
For Catherine Isaac, who had written for years in the UK as Jane Costello, the shift in topic and tone that lead to You, Me, Everything was significant enough that she had to change the name she wrote under in order to make the switch. Her book, one that deals with deeper and more challenging themes than her previous series, was one she felt she needed to write, even if she had to set aside an author brand she'd been building for years. In our chat, we talk about the desire to go further in her writing as well as the politics of pseudonyms. SO much to learn from this one!
I've adored Tom Rachman ever since The Imperfectionists, so it was a special treat to get to talk to him about his latest novel, The Italian Teacher. His challenge in writing it was the desire to cover a character's full life from beginning to end. We discuss the powerful father-son relationship that lives at the center of the book, his own existential concerns about becoming a parent and how writing this book helped him open up to being a father, and finally what good fiction strives to convey about what being human is really about.
We do really deep in this episode, which is something I enjoy so much. I hope you have a great time listening. As always, share your thoughts with me on twitter @carodonahue or on our FB page. I love hearing from you!
Discussed in Episode 103 with Catherine Isaac:
Was writing romantic comedies before this novel.
Writing under a different name for the comedies, Jane Costello.
“I thought I would take the opportunity to -- in between changing some nappies -- write this novel that I’d wanted to write all my life.”
On getting started as a romantic comedy author.
Wrote a book a year for a decade.
“I just wanted to write something different.”
On starting You Me Everything.
“Authors these days don’t simply write books.”
On the demands of being an author in the age of social media.
“One of the things I most enjoyed about writing this book was writing the descriptions of all the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of that region.”
On setting her book in southern France.
“I wanted to write something that was ultimately uplifting.”
On You Me Everything being more than a one-note novel.
“This feels like a transition rather than a one-book bounce out of my genre and then back in.”
On moving forward as Catherine Isaac.
“You might think of a tough editor as being somebody who makes you cut a lot out and that wasn’t the case.”
On working with a new editor on You Me Everything.
Discussed in Episode 103 with Tom Rachman:
“It was an ambition of mine, for a long time, to try writing a full life story.”
On the narrative sweep of The Italian Teacher.
Other life stories he’s enjoyed in fiction:
Stoner by John Williams
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
“I found something so gripping about the long process of a life.”
On narratives that take on an entire life.
When telling a story of an entire life, picking the level of detail and what details go in the book is a key challenge.
Over the course of a life, characters change and it’s fascinating to see which ones embrace that change or fight that change. This is true in life but often hard to see it in ones self. Fiction allows this change to happen over a compressed period of time and it’s easier to examine.
“I personally am fascinated by the way people become who they are and yet, in life, it takes a lifetime to see that. In fiction it takes 400 pages.”
On the appeal of lifelong narratives.
“The more you create of the scenes you’re not going to use, the more real are the scenes that you are going to use.”
On knowing the entirely of a characters life, on the page and off.
“When you simply cut a scene, you find that the adjacent scenes are richer for the fact that that scene was written.”
“Writing a character who is sometimes appalling can be a lot of fun.”
On meeting an appalling character on the page, versus in real life.
One of the questions asked in the book is why are so many of our great artistic talents also terrible people?
One aspect of The Italian Teacher is him asking the question of himself, is it okay to be this dedicated to an artistic endeavor while also trying to be part of a family and to raise a child.
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