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. Film rights to this novel have been optioned by Lionsgate, and foreign rights have sold around the world. Her latest novel is Messy, Wonderful Us.
Catherine 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.
Your latest book, Messy, Wonderful Us, is described as a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
It’s about Allie, an academic research scientist, who makes a discovery at her grandmother’s house that throws into doubt everything she’s ever known about her family. She hires a private detective to shed some light on her late mother’s past, and is led to Italy with her best friend, Ed. But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on the Italian Lakes don’t solely concern her family’s tangled past, and the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.
What inspired the idea behind this novel?
I’d been looking for an idea that had all the emotional resonance of my first book, You Me Everything, but dealt with a completely different subject matter. Then I remembered a shocking real-life story I heard many years ago, before I became an author. The novel is of course a work of fiction, but the twist at the heart of the story was inspired by something that actually happened to the husband of an ex-colleague of mine decades ago – tenuous connection, I know! His circumstances were totally different from those in my book, but it clearly planted a seed that would ultimately provide the backbone of Messy, Wonderful Us – and the mystery behind Allie’s quest for the truth about her family.
Your last book, the hit You Me Everything is set in France. You’ve set Messy Wonderful Us in Italy. Do you take research trips?
Well, after spending most of my working life locked in a writing room all by myself, there has to be some perks of the job! I love writing about beautiful places and, even though my novels deal with some difficult themes, the exotic locations add a layer of escapism. The region of France depicted in You Me Everything was one I knew very well without taking a specific research trip – I’d been to the Dordogne on many a childhood holiday, then later as an adult with my kids. But I did go to Sirmione in Lake Garda, Italy, to research Messy, Wonderful Us. It was pretty tough as can imagine, with all that gorgeous food, wine and the glorious setting…
What do you hope the reader will take away from this book?
I rarely write a book with a message at the front of my mind, instead focusing as much attention as possible on a desire to entertain, delight and tug at the heart strings. It’s only once a book is written that it really becomes clear what the themes are. Although Messy, Wonderful Us is essentially a mystery and a page turner, it’s also a book about relationships in all their imperfect, tangled forms. Writing it gave me a lot to think about as a mother – in particular the issue of how important biology is in making us who we are. It would be lovely to think that this is something readers reflect on when reading it too.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
I have three boys, aged fourteen, ten and six so my writing day begins when I’ve dropped them off at school and the noise levels in the house have plummeted to reasonable levels. How I split up the day depends on what stage I’m at in the writing process. I always try to write a first draft as quickly as possible, usually in a coffee shop where I’m without distractions and I set myself a target of 2,500 words in a morning. After the first draft I feel as though I can relax a little – rightly or wrongly. There’s something reassuring about having produced 100,000 to play with, even if they all need to be refined, shuffled around and, very often, dumped altogether!
My current work in progress is another Catherine Isaac book. I wrote under the pseudonym Jane Costello for a decade before these novels, and this will be my third in the new style. It will be handed to my publisher in less than two weeks’ time so I’m feeling rather nervous and very much ready to lie on a beach somewhere doing nothing!