Posted on 08/09/2018 at 10:56 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
So many times, an author’s story begins with rejection. Interviewing Colin Bisset upended that particular trend, though.
Born into a bookworm family, Bisset was sending short stories off to magazines with his mother’s encouragement and co-wrote a “racy sex ’n’ shopping novel” (without, we assume, his mother’s input).
That novel, Designs, was heavily inspired by the show Dynasty, pitted design companies in London and Milan against each other, and culminated with a showdown on a gondola during Venice’s Carnevale.
Bisset and his friend actually sent the first half to London’s Curtis Brown Agency ... who said they could publish it!
Sadly, the writing duo didn’t follow through, and Designs is still in a drawer somewhere.
But, as Bisset said, it provided a valuable lesson: that publishing a novel wasn’t a pipe dream.
He has since published two novels, Loving Le Corbusier and Not Always To Plan, in addition to working as a designer, feng shui consultant, and radio broadcaster.
Yet somehow he found the time to indulge our questions.
SADYE: In the midst of your other jobs, what inspired you to write novels as an adult?
COLIN: I think it was the idea of being free to explore different characters and situations. And reading other novels gave me the confidence to think I could write as well as others who had been already published.
I particularly love descriptive writing, evoking a mood or a setting. Writing a fictionalized account of the life of Le Corbusier’s wife, Yvonne, allowed me to explore from a different angle the personal life of an architect who is often seen as austere and unapproachable.
There was very little known about Yvonne, and that pricked my interest. So many women lived (and continue to live) in the shadow of their famous partners, and I wanted to explore that.
Yvonne’s life was sad in some ways, but it’s really a love story, and I love a love story.
It was also fascinating trying to portray normal life in France in the first decades of the twentieth century in an authentic way.
SADYE: Your background in feng shui and design makes us wonder what your own workspace looks like ...
COLIN: Well, it’s a case of the cobbler’s children and all that. I am, frankly, rather messy.
People often think feng shui is all about minimalism, but it really involves a sense of order — knowing where things are — which creates a supportive and nourishing space.
We renovated a few years ago, and suddenly I had my own study, which I absolutely love. I know where everything is despite the apparent clutter, and I have a wall of books which makes them easy to retrieve.
My desk gets the morning sun, and I find that very energizing, although living in Sydney’s abundant sunshine means that I appreciate dark, damp days when they come along — they can help me focus more easily. That must be my British background coming out!
I think it’s important to have things around you that you find beautiful – just as William Morris advocated.
I have a gorgeous painting by my friend, the artist Francesca Howard, which is all greens and red, very stimulating, but I also have a large framed print of all of Le Corbusier’s buildings, which draws my eye and inspires new thoughts about his work.
I used to be very precious about setting the space, making it ready for the Great Moment when I would sit down and start writing, but I’m much more relaxed now — essentially I think I could write anywhere.
SADYE: What is it like to go from being part of the media to pushing to be covered by the media?
COLIN: I’ve been writing short design pieces for Australia’s ABC Radio National for nearly ten years now. And I read them myself, which I love doing.
Because of the time constraints of radio programming, it means I’ve become quite adept at editing, cutting out the flab even if it had some beautiful phrases in it, and making sure the important things are conveyed.
In the end — and this is a valuable lesson to learn — everything is a product that is being sold. A radio piece, a short story, or a novel is about enrolling the reader, holding their interest, and making it the best it can possibly be.
Publishers want good product to sell, and while that sounds unromantic, it does make you look at your own work in a different way and really ask why anyone should buy it.
SADYE: What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer, or what advice would you give an aspiring author?
COLIN: Well, an agent once told me not to write novels because there are simply too many being written and they’re so difficult to sell.
I chose to ignore that, and my first novel, Not Always To Plan, was published by Pan Macmillan’s ebook imprint Momentum in 2013.
I’ve also been told by certain publishers that my writing is too quiet. That was disheartening because I like quiet novels.
I think of French films, the way so little seems to happen on the surface and yet there is beauty and truth in the stillness. There’s little doubt that a blockbuster action film gets more notice, and it’s the same with novels.
In the end, though, it’s a case of writing what is right for you and sticking with it. ...
Years ago, my teenage friend approached a few famous authors for advice. Iris Murdoch told him: write, write, write. And Angus Wilson told him: keep writing.
Bit of a theme there, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. You can’t edit a blank page.
SADYE: So what advice would you give an aspiring author, then?
COLIN: I think reading as much as possible is the best way of improving your own writing, to see how other writers do things, what works, what doesn’t.
Writing is such an all-consuming experience, and it occupies your mind constantly, so you’ve got to write about something you feel really strongly about.
When I was writing Loving Le Corbusier, I read everything I could lay my hands on about France in the early 20th century, including biographies of people like Picasso, Cocteau, and Chanel.
I was writing about real people and a real period in history, so I didn’t want to get the details wrong — I became obsessed over little things like the price of a cup of coffee in 1930.
Bit mad, really, and in the end I don’t think I ever mentioned it. But I simply adored every moment of writing that novel.
SADYE: What project is up for you next?
COLIN: I’ve got a couple on the go, both nonfiction. One is a kind of travel book, looking at France and French design through the buildings of Le Corbusier, which I’m now in the process of finding the right publisher for.
The other is at an early stage but also involves architecture, this time in Sydney and about some pretty glamorous buildings.
Sometimes I pinch myself that the little boy who dreamed of becoming an architect is now writing so much about architecture.
Writing and architecture — my two great loves. What could be better?
* * *
Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email us with a recommendation!
Categories: Author Interview