Author Interview

A Conversation with Holly McQueen, Author of The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isabel Bookbinder

1. In a previous interview you stated that being a novelist was your dream job. How does it feel to have been able to make your dream come true?

Unbelievable! That said, on a day-to-day basis I don’t think about it too much—I’m normally too busy being in a panic about a deadline or getting frustrated that a character isn’t ending up on the page the way she is in my head. But when I stop to think about it (or, more often, if my marvelous husband reminds me) I can’t believe how lucky I am.

2. In The Fabulous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder, Isabel wants to be a writer, like yourself. However, in this novel, The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isabel Bookbinder, Isabel wants to be a fashion designer. Do you have an inner fashionista of your own? Do her career aspirations correspond at all to yours?
I wish I had an inner fashionista! It’d be very useful to have her on hand to prevent fashion disasters. But the answer is no—I absolutely love clothes and I’m a bit of a handbag obsessive, but having spent some time working at Vogue I’m all too aware of how seriously true fashionistas take their clothes and how incredible they look. I’m in awe of the best designers’ and stylists’ creativity but I couldn’t possibly do it myself!

3. Isabel uses a mood book to write down inspiring ideas. Do you have a “mood book” of sorts for novel ideas?

As a stationery addict (one thing I do have in common with Isabel) I’m forever buying gorgeous little notebooks with the intention of scribbling down my ideas. But invariably I haven’t got one on me when inspiration really strikes . . . so I always end up texting myself the idea instead.

4. When you were creating the characters, did you base them on anyone in particular?

Not deliberately, that’s for sure! I think I accidentally on purpose always end up putting bits and pieces of real people in my characters, so they’re generally hybrids. Either that, or I end up putting aspects of certain people into two or three different characters. My husband, for example, has inspired both Will and Barney (attractive and a coffee/food obsessive). And both Isabel and Lara have bits (the good and bad) of me and of several of my friends.

5. Isabel is not afraid to follow her dreams. What advice would you give young women about following their own dreams? Do you think there is a certain point in time when one should “give up” on her dreams if they did not work out and do something more practical?

It’s a cliché, but the best bit of advice I could give is to say that you should believe in yourself because if you don’t, nobody else will. And once you’ve done that bit, find somebody else who believes in you, too, and stick to her like superglue! Hard work doesn’t hurt either. And I refuse to believe that anyone should give up on her dream if it doesn’t work out. I’m not saying you can’t modify your dream a bit, maybe put it on hold, to deal with the practicalities of everyday life—everyone has bills to pay. But I think the world would be a much poorer place if people didn’t have the capacity to dream—against all the odds.

6. When writing your novels, what does “The Woman You Write For” look like?

The one thing I’m sure of is that she’s always glamorous, even if (especially when!) she’s at home in her pajamas with a streaming cold and bed hair. And she’s definitely young, whether she’s twenty-five or seventy-five (age is just a number). And the fact that she’s beautiful, inside and out, goes without saying. Young, glamorous, and beautiful. Just like Isabel’s imaginary clientele . . .

7. Isabel was considered the black sheep of the family; what would you say is your role in your own family? Can you relate to the family dynamics described in your novel?

I think that in my family I’m the entertainer . . . I hope I’m not the black sheep, but maybe my family would tell me otherwise! I think it’s interesting that so often the role we take in our family is the role we take in the outside world, too. In Isabel’s case, I think the fact that she’s the black sheep in her family often makes her feel like the black sheep or the outsider in the real world. In some ways, then, I can relate to the family dynamics in the novel—though I’m much luckier than Isabel regarding my own parents!!—because I think, just as she does, that I take aspects of my behavior within my family and present those to the outside world.

8. What would you say your signature look is? What do you consider the unspoken “uniform” in the writing industry is?

Right now, sadly, my signature look is sweatpants and a hooded top. This is what happens to my “style” when I have a deadline to meet. Mostly, though, I’m a jeans addict, and because I feel ridiculous in anything frilly or boho, I stick to very clean, simple lines, often with a blazer on top. Oh, and I always carry a bag that I’m in love with, too. As for the writing world’s “uniform”—hmmmm . . . hollow eyes and a third Martini?

9. Creating a certain image is a major issue for Isabel. Is this something that you feel is important? What are your views about societal standards?

I think image is very important, though in some ways I wish it wasn’t! I think society is unhealthily obsessed with the way women look, and what I try to do with Isabel is to make it clear that, even in the fashion industry, there is far, far more to life than image. That said, I think one of the most wonderful things about being a woman is our ability to alter our image and our appearance, to present a certain “face” to the outside world. It is supposed to be fun, after all! I get very depressed by the societal standards that take all the fun out of it, by dictating to women that they “should” look a certain, very limited, way.

10. Isabel has many issues with men, whether it is jumping to conclusions or not being treated as an equal. Did you include these issues to make them more noticeable in the public’s eyes?

I certainly didn’t include them deliberately—Isabel’s issues with men are very personal to her and her situation. However, I think many women of Isabel’s age are struggling to find their way through what is still very much a man’s world, and to find a way to do it without losing their own femininity. I do feel passionately about women feeling independent, but I also think that the kind of partnership of equals that Isabel is searching for is the most powerful thing of all.

11. To Isabel, having her own fragrance line would be considered the epitome of success. What would be the epitome of your success?

Here in the UK, we have a radio show called Desert Island Discs where well-known people choose eight music tracks they’d take to a desert island if they were stranded there. Long before I was ever published, I used to listen to the show and dream about how I’d be on it one day (I confess, I regularly daydream about the music I’d choose), so for me, appearing on that would pretty much be the icing on the very wonderful cake!! In the event that this doesn’t happen, however, I’d be pretty chuffed if I saw a stranger reading one of my books on the bus or the train . . . and smiling. That would be a pretty fantastic pinnacle.

12. What’s next for Isabel? Will we see her trying out yet another career?

Isabel never rests on her laurels—a wedding-planning career is, in fact, what awaits her . . . It’s proving incredible fun to write!



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