Isabel Ashdown lives in West Sussex with her carpenter husband and two children. The middle child of an artist and an English lecturer, Isabel was born in London in 1970 and grew up in a seaside village on the south coast of England, a place which continues to fuel much of her writing. After fifteen years working in product marketing, Isabel made the decision to give up her job in senior management to write, enrolling for a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, where her late father had taught two decades earlier. In 2007, she graduated with first class honours and was awarded the Hugo Donnelly Prize for outstanding academic achievement, going on to receive an MA with distinction in 2010. She's currently Writer in Residence 2013-14 at the University of Brighton.
Her first novel Glasshopper (Observer ‘Best Débuts of 2009’, Evening Standard ‘Best Books of the Year’) was published in 2009. An extract from the novel won the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition and was described by judges Fay Weldon, Michael Ridpath and Sir John Mortimer as 'magnificent'. Her second novel Hurry Up and Wait was published to critical acclaim in 2011 and was listed as one of Amazon's Customer Favourites for Kindle in 2011. Myriad published her third book, Summer of '76, in July 2013.
Isabel is also co-founder of Three Sussex Writers, a website for book lovers run by a trio of authors based in West Sussex. Along with Isabel, Jane Rusbridge (The Devil's Music) and Gabrielle Kimm (His Last Duchess) regularly team up at events, literary festivals and creative worskhops to share their knowledge and experience of writing.
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Isabel returned to her old school, Chichester High School for Girls to run a series of talks for Year 9 English students. She gave the girls an insight into the working life of a writer, and to offer some practical writing tips that they might take away with them to develop further.
Isabel's advice for all? 'Store it up, write down the dull, the fascinating, the troubling stuff – and it will undoubtedly rear up again in the future, as some kind of creative cue. Keeping a notebook is another vital habit for a writer to develop – and of course, if you want to be the best you can … read, read, read!'
Isabel Ashdown reads from and discusses her critically acclaimed debut novel Glasshopper at a fundraising dinner for NACOA, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, May 2012.
'My Saturday Job - When I was 14 I took a job in a chemist in the West Sussex seaside village of East Wittering, where I lived. The owner was a softly spoken man called Mr Holmes who had an entirely female staff, many of whom had worked for him for decades.'
Isabel Ashdown remembers her first job working at a West Sussex Chemist in the Guardian.
'My dad's love affair with alcohol' - Read Isabel's moving article in Red magazine about how her father's addiction has shaped her life.
'When I was 21, I walked into my local bookshop and asked the woman behind the counter if they could find a particular book for me. There was no internet shopping back then, and, as it was a specialist book, it would need to be ordered. I felt ashamed asking for it, and had to repeat the title several times before the assistant located it in her trade journal. ‘Ah, yes!’ she finally declared, loudly. ‘Here it is! Adult Children Of Alcoholics!’ She looked up at me, delighted, and I wanted to die on the spot.'
Isabel is a supporter of NACOA, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.
Isabel says, 'Alcoholism in the family is one of society’s best kept secrets. In families where alcohol is a problem, children are often deeply affected by the guilt of this secret, of not understanding why their parent drinks or how to help them get better. It can be a lonely place. But thanks to Nacoa, today’s children have someone they can to talk to without fear of exposure, and sometimes that’s all a child needs to help them through it. I’m proud to be a supporter of Nacoa’s vital work.'
'I remember my own teenage years with great clarity. From around the age of fourteen, I pretty much felt I knew my own mind, and started to leave behind the things of childhood...My interests had shifted: I wanted to read about bigger things than my parents chose for me – I was after free-thinking and books with adult themes.'
Read Isabel's guest post on Young Adult fiction blog Mostly Reading YA as she discusses her growing popularity amongst adolescent readers.
'It was several years ago that I first began to develop a fascination with memories of 1976, when I started writing in earnest, having given up my career to study English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. Images and senses of summer seemed to play a strong role in my writing – the heatbaked scent of drying lawns, the rise and fall of honeysuckle and the slip-slap of flip-flops on boiled asphalt – and my recollections were repeatedly drawn back to that heatwave summer, when I was turning six.'
Isabel talks to Retreat West about the creation of Summer of '76 and her writing processes.
'When I write, there must be no sounds other than the distant purr of traffic and birdsong, and the tap of my fingers on the keyboard. But between the moments of physical writing, music plays a strong role in the development of my fictional worlds, and it provides me with a therapeutic contrast to the long hours of quiet and solitary creation.'
Isabel discusses her writing obsessions and social change on Roz Morris's The Undercover Soundtrack.