The Writing Life of: Catherine McCarthy
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Catherine McCarthy. Catherine will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Door and other Twisted Tales‘, which was released on 8th August 2019 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Catherine McCarthy grew up in the valleys of South Wales where she went on to teach for almost three decades. She was inspired to write from a young age, having fallen in love with story-telling after being ‘shown the light’ by her mother who had the tradition of oral story-telling down to a fine art.
Her most recent publication is a collection of short stories for adults entitled Door and other twisted tales which explores the darker side of magical realism. An absolute joy to write, the collection visits a variety of locations and incidents throughout history and imagines them affected by supernatural forces or creatures of myth.
Her other published works include Hope Cottage, a dark and mysterious family saga of triumph over adversity, the proceeds of which she donates to thebraintumourcharity.org in memory of her mother, and The Gatekeeper’s Apprentice, a fantasy adventure for middle grade children.
Her current work in progress is a magical realism novel in which the main character is a young girl with Down’s syndrome and big ambitions.
She now lives with her husband in an inspirational old Welsh cottage in West Wales where she writes, reads, sews and walks the wonderful coast path.
Catherine McCarthy believes that story telling is probably the oldest and wisest art form known to man, though to make it compelling, it needs to be crafted with a bit of magic.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
Yes, two actually. The first was to become a primary school teacher which I went on to do for twenty nine years, and the second was to be an author which took far longer to achieve!
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and Enid Blyton – now I’m giving away my age!
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
I can honestly say that it’s something I’ve just always done. I think it stemmed from being praised for my writing as a child, both by my Mum and my teachers, which is why it’s so important to encourage children to develop the skills they show an aptitude for – they never forget!
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I’m an early bird, so at around 7:00am I do the ‘social media/email’ jobs before completing daily routine tasks such as cleaning, visiting the gym etc. Writing per se for me usually begins late afternoon and into early evening.
I never aim for a word count goal as now that I no longer work as a teacher I enjoy being able to do as much or as little writing as I please. Having said that, I do feel guilty if I take a whole day off.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I’ve written and published three books: one middle grade low fantasy novel, one adult, dark family saga and one short story collection of dark tales. I am currently half way through the first draft of a dark, magical realism novel for adults.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
In my everyday life I’m a total plotter – I write lists for everything! However, I’m more of a pantser when it comes to writing. When I do plan I always end up changing it so there seems little point in being too rigid early on. I don’t believe in being too rigid with something creative.
Concerning your latest book:
Pages – 208
Release Date – 8th August 2019
ISBN 13 – 978-1089083870
Format – ebook, paperback
Botany Bay, 1790 – One by one, a colony of white-skinned pioneers disappear from their camp. Did the legendary rainbow serpent of the Dreamtime, Goorialla, wreak revenge on the ghosts for disturbing its sacred watering hole?
North-east coast of Japan 2011, vicinity of Fukushima Nuclear Plant – Seismic waves on the Pacific Ocean floor cause a catastrophic tsunami. The mythical giant catfish, Namazu, is believed to seek retribution for human greed by creating earthquakes. Could it be to blame?
Door and Other Twisted Tales is a collection of ten, dark portal stories, each set in a different place, a different time, yet woven together by supernatural visitations which result in the death, destruction and disappearance of humans in recompense for their actions.
From Plague – the embodiment of the 14th Century Black Death, to Shams – a contemporary tale of the mysteries of quantum physics and the mind, Door and other twisted tales will lead you on a journey through time and place as the consequences of greed, impulse, loneliness and fear are exposed.
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
The idea for the first story in the collection, Door, sprung during a long car journey. The road I travelled passed by a barren wasteland, where a derelict building surrounded by a barbed wire fence stood. I found the location reminiscent of some secret, government complex and began to wonder what secrets might be hiding behind its benign but sturdy looking door – and it all started from there really.
All ten stories in the collection are themed and all have one word titles. Some began life as moments in time, such as hearing the haunting sound of panpipes whilst in a woodland in France (and no – I hadn’t been drinking) which was the stimulus for Plague, whilst others such as Charity were written as a ‘dig’ at the evils that exist in society.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
Absolutely ages, as I was still teaching full time! Once I finished work though I wrote the final two stories and did all the revision and editing within six months or so.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
Oops! I’ve sort of already answered this in Q. 7. The full title is Door and other twisted tales which pretty much explains the other stories in the collection.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
As it’s a collection there are various characters. Door introduces the portal concept through the character of John – an O.C.D. sufferer with incessant tinnitus – who has had more than his fair share of bad luck in life. Granted the opportunity to start afresh, he attempts to put the past behind him. Little does he realise that the faceless interview for the new job, conducted solely over the telephone, is just the beginning of something far more sinister which will push his already-fraught mind to its limits.
Another favourite character of mine is from the story Shams. Anwar, a professor of quantum physics, begins to develop symptoms of malaise when he makes the move from the glorious sunshine of Saudi to cold, grey London… but can the lack of sunshine really be the cause of his illness?
Ooh! And one final one from Charity. The story is set during the 2008 U.K. recession. Alison Jackman has just become the new CEO of an almost-bankrupt advertising agency. In a ruthless attempt to get the business back on its feet, she cancels the company’s regular donation to a local homeless shelter just before Christmas. Little does she realise that one of its regulars, who unfortunately doesn’t spell very well, will write a letter of complaint to Satan Claws!
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Unless someone’s written a book then they’re probably unaware of the lengths you have to go to before it’s ready to publish. The first completed draft of any book is only the beginning. Rounds and rounds of revision and editing are necessary before it is sent out to BETA readers for feedback. Fortunately for me, my husband is an illustrator and animator so my book cover, launch images and book trailer cost me nothing.
Just before publication I had two ARC readers to review it. Their reviews were fabulous but if I learned anything from the process it was that I should have got more reviews pre-launch.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
I’m currently half way through the first draft of a magical realism novel set in my home location in Wales. The main character is a young girl who has Down’s Syndrome and big dreams – just like any other young girl. However, when an evil force enters her life, her future lies in the balance.
I feel strongly that people with learning disabilities are hugely under-represented in literature, so in this novel I’m aiming to redress the balance. The biggest test in this particular work is to give my main character her own voice without patronising her.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
I think I’d have to choose Poison Ivy. I’d use my powers to breath new life into our ecosystem then destroy the wealth of big, capitalist companies that insist on flying their employees halfway round the world for a meeting which could have been carried out via video-conference.
2) Do you have any pets?
Does a garden pond full of fish count?
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
I really had to think about this one. I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist and as such have a tendency to worry about what might happen if I dare to take a risk. This has held me back in life so I’d call it… ‘So What if it Rains When the Washing’s on the Line!’
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
Oh dear! The stories in my collection are all very dark, so most of the characters come to a rather sticky end! I think therefore I’d have to choose to play the minor character of Brenda who works voluntarily in the homeless shelter in the story Charity. At least then I would have the joy of knowing that mean-spirited Alison Jackman finally gets her comeuppance when she messes with Satan Claws!
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Exploring the West Wales coast where I live. I love seeing new places – just hate the getting there.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Don’t look at my butt quack when I pitch!’
I would like to say a big thank you to Catherine McCarthy for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.