This post consists of a book review, an interview with Ruth Leigh, links to other posts about this new book and stockists of The continued times of Isabella M Smugge.
The third book in the highly entertaining series about the dreadful (but gradually improving) Isabella M Smugge, who refers to herself as Issy, is available now.
My reviews of the first two books are The Diary of Isabella M Smugge and The Trials of Isabella M Smugge
The continued times of Isabella M Smugge resumes the story like the earlier books in the form of a diary. I received a digital ARC, which I read on my phone. That was hard work, but I was keen to find out what had been going on in the lives of Issy, her friends and extended family. I have since enjoyed it far more in the paperback edition. (Yes, it is a book worth reading and re-reading.)
There are lots of amusing or cringe-worthy incidents. The brand names and band names are a hoot (a surprisingly old-fashioned word Issy used). Much of her improved character is a result of her new friends and her focus on forgiveness. Footnotes including passages of, or references to, scripture are included where they add to the reader’s understanding of the story.
I have interacted with Ruth Leigh in conversations on Zoom with other members of the Association of Christian Writers. The interview below gives you, my readers, a chance to learn more about her (as I did).
Q. Issy uses social media platforms which I don’t think you are on – yet. How did you research these, and do you intend to branch out onto new platforms yourself?
A. I joined TikTok quite recently and wasn’t at all sure that I belonged there. My natural home is Instagram and Facebook, although I am getting the hang of Twitter. I did some research on the terms used on that platform and watched what Wendy H Jones did as she is a very successful TikToker. I spent a lot of time looking at people who had millions of followers and learned new terms (stitching, anyone?) as well as taking advice from the 13-year-old daughter of a friend who has really cracked it. I mention Pinterest in Continued Times and while I am on there, technically, I have no idea what it’s all about and how to use it! I think taking the leap into TikTok is enough for me – maintaining four social media platforms, even with the help of Lovely Jason, is jolly hard work! I don’t know how Issy does it.
Q. Bringing up your own family has obviously given you some insight into child development. Issy had a very different experience at boarding school from her children at the local schools. What sort of schools did you attend? Did you choose something similar for your own children?
A. I went to the local community primary school in our village. I was in the baby boom year (1966) and our class was huge. We had massive grounds and always hosted all the other primaries for District Sports Days which was fun. My future husband used to come and play our team at football, strangely enough. I loved playing on the field and in the hedge at the back and on the extremely dangerous play equipment. No TAs [Teaching Assistants] and no health and safety back then! I passed the Eleven Plus and went to the local girls’ grammar where I was very unhappy. It may be (and I hadn’t thought about this before I read your question) that some of Issy’s memories of school in Continued Times spring from that. My children went to our village primary and then on to the local high school – no posh boarding schools or Latin mottos for us!
Q. What about your faith? You portray Issy as someone who finds church life unfamiliar. Were you brought up in a church-going family or were you more like Issy?
A. I was taken to church from the egg. It was a huge part of my life. Mum was a Scottish Presbyterian and Dad a Methodist, but in our village we only had the Baptist Church on one side of the village green and the CofE on the other. So Dad went to the Anglican church and we went to the Baptist with Mum and Nana. I was familiar with all the denominations from an early age as Dad was a church organist and as the only other member of the family who could read music, I often accompanied him to weddings on Saturdays to turn over his music in the organ loft. I loved seeing all the different kinds of churches. The Catholics were my favourites – lots of mysterious smells and statues.
Q. Issy has improved her writing efficiency with practice. Is that something from your own experience as a freelance writer?
A. Yes! Exactly that. Issy’s proficiency at knocking out a blog in twenty minutes is me to a T! When I got my first freelance writing job in 2008, I agonised over every word for hours. Fourteen years on, while I still spend time researching and polishing, I work much more quickly and efficiently; that experience has stood me in good stead for fiction writing.
Q. Do you find fiction writing easier or more difficult than writing factual articles?
A. Great question. And quite a difficult one. I would say it depends on the subject and the client. I’ve had some of my freelance clients for years and slot back into the right voice and tone immediately, so don’t find writing their articles difficult. But when I get a new one, it can be tricky to get it right straight away. Until I wrote Continued Times, I’d have said I found fiction easier to write, but I had terrible writer’s block with it and struggled to get it finished. I think both writing forms have their challenges and each their joys.
Q. And finally which character in your books is most like you?
No one has ever asked me that before! I’m really having to dig deep to find the answer. I think there are elements of me in Issy (the Protestant Work Ethic, the ability to wear a mask, the desire to do everything perfectly) and lots of my friends have said they see me in Claire. I don’t think any of my characteristics appear in Mummy, Lavinia or Mimi (at least I hope not!) Maybe my loyalty to friends informs Lauren and the girls. Mainly though, I made everyone up and if there any aspects of my own character in them, it was entirely unconscious.
Thank you, Ruth.
Links to other posts
The other posts in this blog tour may be found from the links below.
Issy Rides again by Ruth Leigh
Andrew Chamberlain’s podcast interview with Ruth Leigh
Martin Horton’s review and interview
Issy Smugge and The Velveteen Rabbit – Book Review by Liz Manning
Signed copies complete with merch can be ordered via Ruth Leigh’s website and from good bookshops, Eden, Waterstones and Amazon from 22nd October 2022. In Suffolk, Issy Smugge is stocked by Woodbridge Books, Dial Lane Books in Ipswich and The Halesworth Bookshop.