I’m so pleased to be joining the blog tour for paperback edition of Catherine Isaac’s Messy Wonderful Us. I read this when it came out in hardback last year and adored it – it was on my Top Reads list for 2019. I’m delighted that Catherine has agreed to answer my author in the Spotlight questions today. You can read that feature first then below I am sharing my review again.
Thanks so much for joining me Catherine. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I was born in Liverpool and was a journalist before I became an author, latterly as Editor of the Liverpool Daily Post. I wrote nine novels as ‘Jane Costello’ before changing direction with ‘You Me Everything’ – an emotional story about family secrets that was different from the rom-coms of my earlier career.
I wrote that novel as ‘Catherine Isaac’ and haven’t looked back – the book has been translated into 24 languages and a movie is in development by Lionsgate and Temple Hill (which still doesn’t feel real!). I live in Liverpool and have three sons – aged 15, 11 and 7 – as well as a dog called Maisie. This combination means I live in one of the noisiest households in the western hemisphere. Between writing and my children, I don’t have much free time but I love running and am currently doing up a Victorian house I bought recently.
What inspired you to start writing?
My mum had been involved in a serious car accident a few years before I was born, which left her wheelchair bound. Because my dad was at work in the daytime, the activities she was able to do with me as a little girl were limited – we were housebound a lot of the time. There were two main occupations: baking cakes and reading, which we did endlessly. I was a real bookworm from an early age and, by the time I was in my twenties, I realised I harboured an ambition to write my own book. Easier said than done, of course!
Tell me about your journey to publication
I tried for about a decade to write before I finally succeeded in finishing a novel. With a busy job and the active social live that goes hand in hand with working in a newsroom, I’d never previously managed to get past chapter three. The difference came when I went on maternity leave. I got the idea for my first Jane Costello novel while I was sitting in the pew at a wedding. The result was ‘Bridesmaids’ which was published in May 2008 and to everyone’s surprise – not least mine – became a bestseller.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
MESSY, WONDERFUL US is set in Italy and is a love story and mystery about the unravelling of family secrets. It’s an uplifting but very emotional read which centres around a letter that arrives in late 1983. Its contents are so unthinkable that it is hidden away, apparently forever. More than three decades later, it is found by the last person ever supposed to see it – my heroine Allie. With the truth liable to hurt those she loves most, she hires a private detective to find out what happened to her late mother in the summer before she was born. Taking leave from her job as a research scientist, she is led to Lake Garda, with her best friend Ed. But the secrets that emerge go beyond anything either of them were expecting.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Thinking of a title is my least favourite part of writing a novel. I’ve written whole books faster than I’ve come up with those three or four words before. But this one just fits the story perfectly– the characters, their relationships and – as is eventually revealed – the family at the heart of the mystery itself.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
I’m having a book launch! This is my eleventh book and, for some publication days I’ve barely marked the occasion beyond having a glass of prosecco! But this is a special book. I don’t mind saying that I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I felt this one needed a publication day with some kind of sense of occasion.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes I do – always! I can’t say too much about it yet as my editor hasn’t seen the final version but it’s another sweeping, emotional story set in a beautiful place.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months?
Beneath the Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin. It’s the sequel to her amazing novel, The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes, and is every bit as funny and life affirming. I laughed my head off and cried until my belly ached.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
So, so hard. Can I have two? The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne or David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. They’re both brilliant – and gratifyingly long, so I think they’d keep me going for a while.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film?
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. It’s one of my favourite books and won the Booker Prize the same year The English Patient. It’s set in the mid-18th century on a slave ship called The Liverpool Merchant and is complex and beautifully written with the most terrific ending.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’m on everything – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Please come and say hi!
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
Another really hard one! I’m not sure I could narrow it down to a single character, but I’d have been ANY in Jilly Cooper’s Rivals. There’s nothing I don’t love in her novels: the rambling countryside, the parties, the sex, the one-liners, the horses. If only real life was like that!
‘Messy Wonderful Us’ by Catherine Isaac is out now, published by Simon & Schuster, priced £7.99 in paperback original. Read on for my thoughts on this fabulous book.
It’s the story of Allie, a research scientist, who by chance discovers an old letter in her grandmother’s house. The letter seems to reveal an old family secret which could change a lot of what Allie thinks she knows about her family. When her grandmother is adamant that it isn’t what Allie thinks and that she should forget about it, then of course she is determined to find out the truth. To do this, she will need to travel to Italy and is accompanied by her best friend Ed. Ed is having his own difficulties and the opportunity to get away for a while is just what he needs to take stock and decide the way forward for him.
There are quite a few messy relationships in this book, but it’s one of those books where it is difficult to say much about any of them without giving away the plot, so I won’t. One thing I will say is that Catherine Isaac has created some wonderful characters you will really care about, across all the generations. Apart from one character who you will most definitely not like! She is equally able to convey the angst of school days and young love as she is able to show that love and relationships can still be complicated in later years.
The book is so beautifully written and not just the relationships that Catherine Isaac writes about with great insight. The scenes set in Italy are wonderful to read about with beautiful lakes, vineyards and fabulous sounding little food shops.
Many times the story took a direction I didn’t expect at all. I was reading on the bus when one particular part took me so much by surprise that I gasped audibly, no doubt to the amusement of my fellow bus travellers! Messy, Wonderful Us is a story of family secrets and coming to terms with the past and indeed the present. The relationships may be messy but they are certainly also wonderful in this captivating book.
From the back of the book
In late 1983, a letter arrives from Italy, containing secrets so unthinkable that it is hidden away, apparently forever. More than three decades later, it is found . . . by the last person who was ever supposed to see it.
When Allie opens an envelope in her grandmother’s house, it changes everything she knows about her family – and herself.
With the truth liable to hurt those she loves most, she hires a private detective to find out what happened to her late mother in the summer before Allie was born. Taking leave from her job as a research scientist, she is led to the sun-drenched shores of Lake Garda, accompanied by her best friend Ed.
But the secrets that emerge go far beyond anything they were expecting. Now, Allie must find the courage to confront her family’s tangled past and reshape her own future.
About the author
Catherine Isaac was born in 1974 in Liverpool, England. She studied History at the University of Liverpool, before completing a postgraduate diploma in Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University. She began her career as graduate trainee at the Liverpool Echo. At 27, she was appointed Editor of the Liverpool Daily Post and held the position for five years. She wrote her first book, Bridesmaids, while on maternity leave and under the pseudonym Jane Costello. She has since written nine books, all Sunday Times bestsellers in the UK. You, Me, Everything is her first novel writing as Catherine Isaac. She lives in Liverpool with her husband Mark and three sons. In her spare time she likes to run, walk up mountains in the Lake District and win at pub quizzes, though the latter rarely happens.