I really enjoyed reading Come Sunday and so was delighted to have the chance to interview author Isla Morley about her debut novel. I was even more interested when I noticed that Isla and I have something in common (besides both being writers)—see my third question below.
TKM: How long did it take you to write Come Sunday?
Isla Morley: I was working for the YWCA of Oahu when I started the novel. I wrote on weekends and at nighttime and during my daughter’s naptime, and it took me two-and-a-half years to complete.
TKM: What was the inspiration behind the novel?
Isla: A really bad day, actually. In fact, I incorporated that bad day in the first chapter of the book. A tropical storm had hit Hawaii, and rather than keeping everything dry, our brand-new roof leaked worse than before we’d had it replaced. That night I went to bed feeling very sorry for myself, but suddenly, this woman appeared to me. She was holding a funeral announcement in her hand, and I thought, “Oh, things could be so much worse than a leaky roof.” That woman turned out to be the main character of my novel, and she just kept revealing more and more of her life.
TKM: Like you, I have an English degree and work as an editor. How did you get into your editing career? Do you feel your English degree helped you in this direction?
Isla: I sort of stumbled into the job. I had just come back from living abroad for a year and there was an ad in the classifieds for an editorial assistant. It sounded glamorous, so I applied for the position, and before I knew it, I was opening the mail, making coffee, answering the phone and writing phony letters to the editor. Somehow my name kept moving up the masthead until one day it was under the title “Editor.” Except nobody told me to stop making the coffee or stop making stuff up!
I didn’t learn how to write or edit or juggle deadlines from studying English at University. What my English degree gave me was the gift of critical thinking. Some people’s eyes glaze over when they hear I have an English degree, like I have a stamp collection I want them to see. I’ve even had someone ask me, “Yes, but what is it for?” Yes, it’s true you can’t be a dental hygienist as an English major or even balance a checkbook. But you have a ton of old friends who live in stiff old pages and smell of mothballs and have taught you pretty much how to be a decent human being.
TKM: How do you feel growing up in South Africa has affected you as a writer?
Isla: I’ve discovered things are seldom black or white. People are complex, issues are complex. Victims can have a streak of the villain in them, and villains are capable of extraordinary kindness. I learned very early on in life that things are seldom what they seem. I’ve tried to apply this truth in my storytelling.
TKM: How do you balance writing and motherhood?
Isla: Being a mom comes first. Writing is what I do when my daughter is at school. But I do find that when I have a productive and creative day, I am in a better mood and both my daughter and my husband benefit from this.
TKM: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Isla: There’s a fortune stuck on my computer that says, “If you have hope, you have everything.” I wish all your readers the kind of hope that sustains them through the rough patches. Thank you for having me on your blog.
More about Author Isla Morley
Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid. She received her B.A. in English at Nelson Mandela University and then worked as a magazine editor. After marrying an America, Isla moved to California and spent a decade in non-profit work, focusing on the needs of women and children. She and her husband, daughter, three cats and five tortoises now make their home in Los Angeles. Come Sunday won the Janet Heidinger Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages.
Photo credit: Molly Hawkey