She is a recognized costume designer and stylist. Today, she is also a talented novelist who shows readers her debut novel titled: A Secret Muse, a horror-fiction-mystery set between the U.S. and Italy ( see the press release). I am speaking about Mandy Jackson-Beverly, a very creative woman-artist, and a brilliant writer, also, who was able to use their skills as a stylist to write a very compelling story. For this reason, I am glad to publish and show everybody this interesting interview with Mandy, where she tells about her life and her work, by remembering also troubles and concerns of a world that is about to go toward the end of the year. Can books and writing help us forget concerns and fear about the future? I suggest that you read the interview to discover it.
Hi Mandy, I know you worked as a stylist and a costume designer for photographer Herb Ritts, and directors Joel and Ethan Coen, David Fincher, and Julien Temple, and music icons David Bowie, Madonna, and Tina Turner, to name a few.
Have these creative jobs influenced your writing?
Hi, Rosalba, and thank you for having me. I’ve been lucky to have worked with wonderfully creative people, and I think when you’re around other like-minded people you tend to fuel each others creativity. During 1987, I styled a music video for David Bowie, and then toured with him for a while. In Italy, we stayed at Villa La Massa outside of Florence…such an elegant place, and one that I used as a reference in A Secret Muse. So as fate would have it, an event that happened while I was a stylist, played a significant part in my writing life years later. In that respect, a styling job did influence my writing.
I know you also write articles for important web journals such as The Huffington Post. Today, do you feel to be more a stylist or more a writer?
I’m definitely a writer now, although I will always be a lover of fashion, and I enjoy speaking with young people about careers in costume design, styling and art.
Why did you decide to undertake the career as a novelist?
I’m not sure I had a choice…the characters kept visiting me in my nightly dreams and finding their way into my mind while I was teaching. So I began painting their faces and images, and jotting down notes and poetry in journals. I’ve since learned that when a story wants out, it’s easier to take note and listen to my sub-conscious than ignore the situation.
Tell us about A Secret Muse. That is a mystery novel set between the U.S and Italy, where the main character is the painter and art professor Coco Rhodes. The story is compelling and very interesting and surrounded by a halo of uncertainty that keeps readers glued from the first to the last page. Could you give us more information about the plot and the meaning of your book?
The book begins with the following phrase: As humans, we are bound by fate to encounter a profound moment while on our journey…an instant when a choice is presented and we either accept the challenge, or carry on with life as we know it. Late one evening, while grading my Advanced Placement art student’s portfolios, I reached toward a painting and was overwhelmed with a multitude of emotions: pride, joy, and a strong sense of over-protectiveness. I mourned for all the art, architecture, artifacts, and manuscripts that have been destroyed over time by the horrors of war, fear and greed. That was ‘my moment.’ Professor Coco Rhodes and the Allegiance became cemented in my story, and I realized I needed to work full time on my novel. I guess I’m a dreamer…I truly hope that somewhere out there, is a force of goodness protecting the Creatives in this world. A Secret Muse is driven by the phrase: Without Courage All Is Lost. That phrase is Coco’s motto…perhaps mine too.
I define your novel as a mystery seasoned with a hint of horror, suspense and poetry. Do you agree with my thought?
Yes, many readers say A Secret Muse is a cross-genre novel, and I’m happy with that definition. I don’t do well with conformity, especially in art, and I’m not about to start now. The painter in me tends to envision words as colors, and therefore I see phrases as paints on a palette. At times it’s difficult for me to separate painting from poetry. I’ve had readers who have never read anything pertaining to vampires tell me how they read the book in one sitting and loved it. That’s the kind of book I like to read!
Why did you set the plot in Italy, or rather, in the most stunning medieval towns of Tuscany (Florence and San Gimignano, in the district of Siena)?
The history, art and architecture of Florence and San Gimignano played perfectly with the story. I’m drawn to the people of Italy: their emotive gestures, their passion for life, and their culture drenched in history, not to mention their fabulous food and coffee! The medieval castles and towns dotted among the Tuscan hills, the mountains of Northern Italy, and the coastal town of Ventimiglia, are perfect locations for the Allegiance to be based.
Why do you think A Secret Muse could be suitable for Italian readers?
A Secret Muse is suitable for Italian readers because the story is set in both Italy and the United States. Also the history of the Renaissance in Florence is a pivotal part of the story.
Italian readers appreciate books like yours, indeed they read Dan Brown, Umberto Eco and Glenn Cooper. These are authors who write mystery books with a historical background. The same historical background can be found in your book.
Who are the authors you have read to draw inspiration for your novel?
I’m definitely drawn to novels that include elements of history, and I’m a lover of mythology, so melding together history, art and urban fantasy resonates with me. I enjoy reading books by Dan Brown, Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian), and Kathleen McGowan. However it is the poets and essayists whom I’m constantly returning to for inspiration: Rumi, Petrach, Mirandola, Thoreau, and Alexis De Tocqueville. But I must admit that I’m deeply inspired by art, and visit art galleries and museums whenever I’m able.
Is A Secret Muse your first novel?
Yes, prior to writing A Secret Muse, I wrote humorous plays for my theatre students, and non-fiction essays for the Huffington Post and my own website, mandyjacksonbeverly.com.
What will your next book be about?
I’m currently immersed in research, and writing the sequel to A Secret Muse. It continues where book one ended. I’m reluctant to say too much in case I give the story away to those who’ve not yet read it!
You were born in a very little town: Pyramid Hill, Victoria, Australia and spent your childhood in Tasmania, where your family relocated when you were four years old. Later, you lived in London and Los Angeles. Why do you love Italy so much if your roots are overseas?
There are certain cities in the world where I feel grounded: Florence is one, and Melbourne and Vienna too. Plus all three cities have incredible coffee! When I was a little girl growing up in Australia, I used to dream of living somewhere cosmopolitan; taste food from other cultures, see how others dressed, listen to their languages, etc., and so I think that’s one of the reasons I first settled in London, and later in Los Angeles. When I arrived in L.A. in 1982, the city was like a melting pot of culture, and I loved it. I still do. But L.A. is a young city and as such, does not hold the collective history like the city of Florence.
By the way, to write a book or an article, is it better to live in a little and silent town or in a big and crowded city?
Personally, I believe that to write, one can live anywhere. What matters most, is keeping your heart open and your mind focused. I enjoy country and urban life for they both have characters and stories lurking everywhere. I use my iPhone to take photos constantly while I’m out and about, and draw from these when I’m writing. I also carry journals so I can write anywhere, and it’s comforting to write away from a keyboard. When life gets too noisy, I use earplugs!
Coming back to real life, currently the world is going through one of the hardest epochs of its history. Between terrorism and economic crisis, people are more and more concerned about the future. Do you think there is still room to read books in this reality?
During some of the most turbulent times in the history of man, it is our art, literature and artifacts that are the first to be destroyed by fire, looting and bombs. Without knowledge and education, we are ignorant, and therefore become better followers rather than educated decision makers. Creativity is the source of knowledge, the very essence of humanism, and perhaps this is why art and books are the first to be destroyed. We will always need musicians, artists and authors to take us on journeys; to show us character development and communication skills that in turn help us problem solve. I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people reading, and now with eBooks, reading is just a touch away. So yes, I do believe there is room for reading books in this current reality.
About the future, what is your wish for the new year?
That’s a huge question… On a wider scale, my wish for the New Year is that every child has access to an education, and has food in their stomachs. That we communicate through words rather than brutality, and that we take better care of this wondrous planet. And for me as an individual…I hope the Uffizi isn’t too crowded in April…hope to see you there! Lovely speaking with you, Rosalba, and I appreciate your thoughtful questions.
Thank you very much, Mandy, for granting us this very useful and delicious interview!