The Writing Life of: Cathy Bussey
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:‘ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Cathy Bussey. Cathy will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Summer at Hollyhock House‘, which was released on 2nd August 2018, and answering a few fun questions too.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Cathy Bussey
Cathy is an author, journalist and hopeless romantic who wrote her first book at the tender age of six. Entitled Tarka the Otter, it was a shameless rip-off of the Henry Williamson classic of the same name, and the manuscript was lost after she sent it to her pen-pal and never heard a jot from her since.
Fortunately reception to her writing became more favourable and she spent ten years working for a range of newspapers and magazines covering everything from general elections and celebrity scandals to cats stuck up trees and village fetes. She has been freelance since 2011 and written for The Telegraph, Red Online, Total Women’s Cycling and other lifestyle and cycling publications and websites.
She is the author of three non-fiction books and her debut and thankfully non-plagiarised novel Summer at Hollyhock House has been published by Sapere Books.
Cathy lives on the leafy London/Surrey border with her husband, two children and a dog with only two facial expressions, hungry and guilty. Her hobbies include mountain biking, photography, wandering around outside getting lost, fantasising about getting her garden under control, reading, looking at pretty things on Instagram and drinking tea.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be an author and an event rider. I grew up in the country and was your typical pony-mad girl but my pragmatic parents were constantly reminding me ‘there’s no money in horses’ so by about the age of 10 I had a fully-formed plan that I would write books to fund my event riding.
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
The first book I fell in love with, that truly gripped my heart and soul, was Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. My preferred books were always about animals, mainly ponies, and I tore through all the pony classics, the Jills and the Jinnys and so on.
I adored Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka trilogy and even at my tender age I could tell there was something very mature in her writing, something dreamlike and almost otherworldly at times. Those books where here meets there, where hints of the otherworld creeps in just around the edges, so faintly as to remain plausible – those were favourites.
I loved folklore and adventure too, and books like The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks, the Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea and the Mermaid Summer by Mollie Hunter really fuelled my imagination and love of whimsy.
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
From the moment I knew what writing was.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
I wrote my first book at about the age of six, a complete rip-off of Tarka the Otter that I illustrated, badly, myself. I wrote constantly as a child and a teenager, bashing out pony-based adventures on my parents’ old BBC Micro and creating these magical worlds for myself. A lot of it was driven by a longing for a pony of my own – I basically gave myself in fantasy what I couldn’t have in reality.
After university I trained as a journalist and writing in some form has always been how I made my living. I don’t really know how to do anything else. My first book, which was non-fiction, was published in 2011.
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
I don’t write to a schedule, and when in full flow the number of words or pages I can create in a day is, or feels, genuinely infinite. I am not yet in the fortunate position of being able to write novels full-time and so I generally write in the evenings once my children are in bed, at weekends if I have free time, get up early in the mornings (although I have to be in mad flow for this to happen!) and on days when my children are at school and I am not writing for a client.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I didn’t, but the amount of people who expressed surprise that I wrote under my real name made me wonder if perhaps I should! If I graduate to Jilly Cooper levels of steamy bonkbuster-ness I might consider it to spare my kids’ blushes when they get to high school.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
What’s a strange habit? 😉 I have a few little rituals. I like to write in the same place, sitting at the kitchen table in the same chair with my back to the radiator and the dog at my feet. I drink tea relentlessly mainly so I have a reason to get up every hour or so (make more tea, go to the toilet). I also have a playlist that I listen to on repeat, adding songs to it as they pop into my head.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
Straight onto a computer. It’s a direct link from brain to hands.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
Three non-fiction books and one novel. I do have a few WIP, including one novel I began a few years ago and have never quite been able to make work. I live in hope one day I’ll nail it as it’s a beautiful story and one worth telling.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m neither. What tends to happen is, I start off with a rough idea of what’s going to happen and how, and I go through a number of false starts, and occasionally I write a page or two of plot outline, and then something clicks and it just – gets there.
It’s quite a wasteful process but I’m learning to save as I go along and restart new versions rather than edit the existing drafts, as these old unused versions may come in handy one day for a different book, and at the very least they help me create the overall final feel of the book even if they don’t feature.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
I value every single person who reads my books, even the ones who hate them, because at the end of the day they could have done something else with their time and they chose to spend that time on my creation, and I am grateful.
I am even more grateful to those who choose to review the book, for the benefit of others who may decide they will like it, or conversely decide it’s not for them after all and save themselves the cash they can then go spend funding some other author’s pipe-dreams.
But I am already my own harshest critic, I am working on being my own biggest cheerleader, and I aspire to get to a stage whereby I believe in myself enough that I genuinely do not need the validation of others, positive or negative. Sometimes, I feel this, but it’s fragile and reading reviews only fuels that fragility and gives my self-criticism sharper teeth.
Therefore ‘step away from Amazon’ was the best advice I have been given to date.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Sapere Books
Pages – 332
Release Date – 2nd August 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1912546534
Format – ebook, paperback
One long summer changed Faith forever…
Faith Coombes should have been over the moon when her long-term boyfriend proposed to her. But instead, she broke up with him. Rob was safe, reliable, nice and … boring. Nothing like the only person who had ever broken her heart…
Unable to afford the rent on another flat and desperate for a new start, Faith takes the plunge and moves back to the village she grew up in, returning to the house that holds so many memories for her.
Hollyhock House, the family home of her best-friend Minel, also belongs to the boy who meant so much to her all those years ago…
As Faith falls back in love with the sprawling surroundings at Hollyhock she also finds herself falling all over again for the only person who has truly hurt her.
Can Faith come to terms with her past? Did she make the wrong decision in breaking up with Rob?
Or does her heart really lie at Hollyhock House?
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
God, ages! I wrote the final version that my agent then submitted relatively quickly once the false starts had finished – the whole process from very first word to offer of publication took seven months. It was picked up by a new publisher that hadn’t actually launched yet, so there was a full 13 months between me accepting the offer, and actual publication.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
They were already there.
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
It’s safe to say they make each other tick!
Faith and Rik were best friends as teenagers, then they crossed the line, and then it all went horribly wrong for them. Nine years later they find themselves back in the same place at the same time and while ostensibly they’ve both moved on – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.
Faith is outdoorsy, loves mountain biking and track cycling, and dreams of becoming a garden designer. She’s a strong character but she’s very emotional and at times extremely vulnerable, that’s her superpower really, her willingness to be open and take a risk is what truly defines her.
She’s a very active character, both in her everyday life and in her role and scenes in the book. I didn’t want to portray her as this passive helpless woman that life – and love – just happens to. I wanted Faith to be her own hero.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
Definitely the scene where the characters first kiss, which is a flashback scene to when they were teenagers. I remembered so vividly from my own teenage years how much could be riding on a kiss. Not just the practical stuff – at that age you’re still worried about things like ‘oh god am I A Good Kisser’ and what to do about all the saliva and so on – but the feeling of seeing somebody you thought you knew, in a completely new way. I wanted Faith’s eyes to open not just to a previously undiscovered side of Rik, but also to a previously undiscovered side to herself.
And I wanted there to be that moment where she realises she has a choice. That the kiss could be one thing, or it could be another. That’s a lot to convey and when you consider the very act of kissing is faintly ridiculous in itself, and has the potential to be downright revolting if done wrong, finding the right way to express all that was definitely a challenge.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
It originally had a different title, but my publishers suggested we change it and we were all happy with Summer At Hollyhock House. The season and setting are pretty much characters in their own right, so it seemed fitting that they both featured.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
No! I didn’t let anybody read it, in fact I felt so incredibly, excruciatingly, mortifyingly exposed about the whole thing I would literally slam my laptop shut if anybody walked past, terrified they might be reading it over my shoulder. I sent it to my agent once the draft was ready, so she was the first person other than me who had read a single word. I was beside myself waiting for her to come back to me, terrified she’d just say it wasn’t right, but luckily she totally got it and said she was gripped all the way through, which is impressive considering the first draft was 180,000 words!
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
This isn’t the first book I’ve had published, although it is my first novel, so I was lucky to already have an agent. The whole process was relatively straightforward. It was by no means the hardest path to publication I’ve had, and I’m very grateful because frankly I’m not sure I could have handled a huge slog with this one.
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
Lay face-down on the kitchen floor and played Hello by Adele on repeat. Doesn’t everybody do that?
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
Lots! More novels, lots more romance and probably more from the gang at Hollyhock House as there are other stories to be told there. I hope to continue to reflect my own emotional journey, but that depends on where my journey takes me.
I am also a huge fan of nature writing and in awe of the genre, and I’d love to have a crack at it some day, but I think both I and my writing need to mature.
The good thing about writing is unlike so many careers where youth and beauty reign supreme, age is actually an advantage. I hope to still be writing when I’m 90.
1) What’s your favourite food?
I could not live without peanut butter.
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
Jurassic Park. I can, and do.
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
Depends on the book I’m writing! Right now it’s Your Love is My Love by Whitney Houston.
5) If you won millions, what would be your first purchase?
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
You can find out more about Cathy Bussey by visiting the website/social media sites below.
I would like to say a big thank you to Cathy Bussey for sharing with us details of her writing life, and for a wonderful interview.