Ivory Apples is the name of a much beloved novel by Adela Madden, a writer who has since gone into hiding. But it’s also the name of a new, horror-adjacent fantasy novel from author Lisa Goldstein, which is about someone looking for Madden because they think her version of Ivory Apples isn’t just a good story. Confused? Don’t be. In the following email interview about her Ivory Apples (paperback, Kindle), Goldstein explains how it all works, and what other books inspired her novel.
Photo Credit: Doug Asherman
To start, what is Ivory Apples about?
It’s about a girl, Ivy Quinn, who meets a stranger named Kate Burden in a park. Kate is charming and interesting and Ivy’s three sisters fall under her spell, but Ivy is suspicious of her right away, in part because she asks intrusive questions about her family. Then Ivy realizes that Kate wants information about her great-aunt, Adela Madden, who became famous for her novel Ivory Apples and then went into hiding. Kate thinks that Madden knows the secrets of the imagination, and has tried for years to follow the clues that Madden left in her novel so that she could write a book as wonderful and successful as Ivory Apples. She insinuates herself more and more into Ivy’s family, but they refuse to answer her questions, and in response she terrorizes Ivy with the unnatural magic she learned in her travels. Kate doesn’t realize that Ivy knows some things about the imagination too, and Ivy uses this knowledge to fight Kate and to save herself and her family.
Where did you get the idea for Ivory Apples, and how, if at all, did the story change from when you originally came up with it?
Well, to start with, I read a book called Neverland by Piers Dudgeon, about J.M. Barrie and how he wrote Peter Pan. It turned out to be one of those weird conspiracy books, as you can probably tell from the subtitle: J.M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers, And The Dark Side Of Peter Pan. The author starts with the fact that the boys Barrie had used as the model for Peter Pan, the Llewelyn Davies brothers, were cousins of Daphne du Maurier, and that du Maurier’s father had written Svengali, and Svengali was about hypnotism, and then something something something, I couldn’t really follow it, but J.M. Barrie had done something dastardly. (Though not abuse, which was what I was expecting / fearing.) The boys’ mother and father had died fairly soon after Barrie started visiting, and this was implied to be, well, not Barrie’s fault exactly, but still sort of strange, wouldn’t you think?
I knew there was a story in this, but I couldn’t think what it might be. So I started a different book, and then, suddenly, I realized that the story was about the secret of creativity, and someone who would do almost anything to get it. I was so taken with this that I stopped writing the first book (to the despair of my workshop, who had just finished critiquing it) and started on the new one. I turned the Llewelyn Davies boys into girls, and the creative author into a woman, because why not?
A part of this novel also came from Michael Swanwick’s biography of Hope Mirrlees, Hope-In-The-Mist. The biography left me (and everyone who read it, probably) with a pretty big question: If Mirrlees could come up with something as amazing as Lud-In-The-Mist, why didn’t she ever write another fantasy novel? I’d also wondered why she disappeared after she wrote it, but the answer to that turns out to be that she didn’t — Lin Carter just couldn’t find her when he republished her novel. That doesn’t make for a very good story, though, so I had my author, Adela Madden, go into hiding.
Ivory Apples sounds like a fantasy story, but kind of a scary one. Is that how you see it?
I see it as a fantasy novel with a lot of horror in it. I wanted to write more horror than I usually do, but not let it completely take over the narrative.
So how much of Adela Madden’s Ivory Apples did you include in your Ivory Apples?
Ivory Apples was supposedly written in the fifties, slowly became a cult favorite, and is now a beloved young adult novel all over the world. I didn’t think I could actually write a brilliant young adult novel, so my book only has small fragments of it. I couldn’t avoid it entirely, though — there are clues in Madden’s book about how to reach the land she wrote about, so that’s most of what I put in.
Wow, I never thought of that. I have an idea of who Isabel Glass is, and who Adela Madden is, and the two of them are pretty different. But the main reason it wouldn’t work is that Madden only wrote one book, for reasons that are explained in the novel. Now that I think of it, though, I could have included Isabel Glass in there somewhere, another reclusive author like Madden.
So are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Ivory Apples but not on anything else you’ve written? Besides that Peter Pan book, of course.
I can’t think of any. It isn’t all that different from other novels of mine, and if there’s any influence it’s from the authors I’ve always admired: Peter Beagle, John Crowley, A.S. Byatt, Hope Mirrlees. (Of course I know no one can reach these heights, but you might as well try.)
Fantasy stories are popular fodder for movies and TV shows these days. Do you think Ivory Apples would work as a movie or show?
I don’t think there’s enough for a series, but I’d love to see a movie.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast as Adela, Ivy, and the other major characters?
A friend of mine described Ivory Apples as “evil Mary Poppins.” I loved this in part because people are always asking authors to sum up their novels in a few words, and this does it perfectly. Then, thinking about that, I realized that Emily Blunt, from Mary Poppins Returns, would make a great Kate Burden — I can certainly see her playing evil. And while I was looking at the cast list for that movie, I came upon Meryl Streep [who was also in Mary Poppins Returns], who would be terrific as Adela Madden (and would also be impossible to get, but we’re fantasizing here, right?). As for Ivy, she starts the book as an eleven-year-old and ends it at around twenty, and I don’t really know any actor who could play this.
Finally, if someone enjoys Ivory Apples, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Dark Cities Underground and The Uncertain Places are both about people finding hidden magic in the real world, and how they deal with the problems it causes, so if that sounds interesting I’d suggest those. And, weirdly, Dark Cities Underground also has J.M. Barrie in it, along with other writers of children’s books, like A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame. I’m not sure why I wrote two books with that guy in them, I didn’t major in children’s literature or anything.