How Hampstead Heath walks inspired a Parisian love affair

Isabel Costello

Isabel Costello - Credit: Archant

Isabel Costello explains how her literary blog helped her journey to publish a novel.

The life of a novelist entails a huge amount of time spent alone at a desk; there can be no book without putting in those hours.

However, my own seven-year journey to publication has held a few surprises and been remarkably sociable.

The hours I’m not writing are very important. Reading and talking about other people’s books has become one of my main occupations.

When I started the Literary Sofa blog five years ago, it was partly to counter the isolation of writing.

The aim was to recreate my favourite kind of conversation - talking about books.

I had no idea that hosting guest authors, producing twice-yearly selections of new fiction and sharing my chequered experiences on the road to publication would be so rewarding.

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Suddenly I had the triple benefits of producing a distinctive post each week, connecting with an audience and supporting debut authors.

I began to attend book launches and meet my guests face to face.

My Twitter following grew and it was good to feel part of a community again. Sometimes the blog was the only thing that was going well, and that was very motivating. T

he Literary Sofa has improved my social life, my confidence and my chances: it undoubtedly helped me to get an agent and, in due course, a book deal.

Becoming a published author isn’t something I’ve achieved on my own.

It’s happened with the support of friends I might never have made and people whose paths I would never have crossed.

So, not such a lonely life after all.

My husband and I are adoptive Londoners; we moved to Alexandra Park in 1994, the year we married, and our children have grown up here.

The stunning view from Alexandra Palace is a short walk from our house and different every time, according to the weather, the season, the time of day.

The London skyline is constantly changing and if I drive through the park at night I have to make an effort to keep my eyes on the road.

I form intense attachments to places and there’s something particularly inspiring and liberating about a high vantage point.

The time I spend at the computer is about finding the words, not deciding what to say.

To generate ideas I have to be on the move and away from distractions, taking long walks and swimming at the beautiful Laboratory pool. Hampstead Heath is another favourite local spot which bridges the two halves of my life.

Our sons are teenagers now but they used to love running around and climbing trees there. Although we still go as a family, I’ve also spent many hours alone on the Heath, mapping out plot points and coming up with the scraps of dialogue which inspire scenes.

For much of that time I wasn’t really in London at all. Let me explain.

My debut novel tells the story of an intense love affair between a 40-year-old woman and a much younger man and it never occurred to me to set it anywhere but Paris.

The trips I made during the writing process deepened my relationship with a city and country I’ve known since childhood, making me see it with new eyes.

But since I didn’t have the luxury of moving to Paris for the duration, most of the work that transformed the original short story into a novel took place right here in north London.

I discovered it is strangely possible to appreciate the beauty of my actual surroundings, say, walking up Downshire Hill to Hampstead village, whilst being elsewhere in my head, such as the Jardin du Luxembourg or by the Canal Saint-Martin.

This mirrors what all authors wish for their readers: to be transported from their own world to another that feels just as real.

Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour is published by Canelo £3.99 in eBook. Visit her blog here.