A multi-talented creative artist, Catherine is an inspiration in many ways. Here she tells us how being immersed in the culture of former pit villages, and a vintage picture of boys playing outside Elsecar Colliery, prompted her second prize winning story ‘The Hierarchy of Substances.’ She’s a dedicated writer who begins writing early, continues on and off throughout the day and has many current projects on the go, including finishing a novel which she began in last November’s NaNoWriMo. She also writes poetry and talks here about the similarity between writing poetry and flash fiction… “the music and the flow of the text matters in both forms.” Catherine is a musician by training and an artist. We need to look out for her on Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist of the Year’ where she is a contestant, having also been in last year’s ‘Portrait Artist of the Year.' We love her self-portrait reproduced here, and her drawing of a pit pony. And we like her advice for entrants to Bath Flash Fiction Award to "sock it to them with that first sentence."
- Can you tell us more about how your brilliant and evocative flash fiction ‘The Hierarchy of Substances’ came into being?
It started with a vintage photograph of small boys playing outside Elsecar Main Colliery. I came across the photo randomly on Twitter where I follow anyone who posts interesting pictures likely to inspire writing. I lived for a while in Barnsley, and now live in Co Durham, so although there is no direct mining heritage in my family, I’ve been immersed in the culture of former pit villages for a good many years and it’s a setting I’ve used often.
- You are a published poet as well as a flash fiction writer. How does one form influence the other for you?
I don’t see a huge difference between the forms, so wouldn’t say either influences the other in any great way. Each word must earn its keep and the music and flow of the text matters in both forms, though the sonics can be more explicit in poetry. I could be facile and say flash needs better grammar – you can’t simply use a line break – but that’s about it, so it’s a slightly different toolkit, but there isn’t always so much difference in the end product.
- A published novelist, artist and musician too, your whole life appears to be one of artistic endeavour. We’d love to know how this developed. Was there something or things that inspired you at an early age? Do you give equal time to all these different pursuits?
I’m dyslexic, so as a small child I drew a lot but was the last person in my class to learn to read or write. It therefore never occurred to me that writing might be something I could do for a career, or even for fun. Art was my passion, and music was something that naturally occurred as I came from a musical family. My professional training was all in music, and that was my career until I was struck down with ME/CFS and had to find something else to do that required very little physical energy. Writing, on a computer, was the obvious solution, so about twenty years ago I wrote my first small poem thanks to the encouragement of some people I met in an online chatroom. I was quickly hooked and within a couple of years was drafting my first novel. I wish someone had told me years earlier how much fun writing could be. I still consider music to be the ‘day job’ as it’s the most reliable source of income, but I spend roughly equal amounts of time on each pursuit.
- We are very pleased to publish another of your flash fictions, ‘The Size of Your Life’ in our forthcoming anthology. This was listed in the February round of our Award and your story ‘Thimbles’ is published in To Carry Her Home: Bath Flash Fiction Volume One. They are both powerful stories, with very good endings, like your second prize winning story in this round. Can you tell us something about your editing strategies?
My editing strategy is simple: cut every word that isn’t pulling its weight. That often means two thirds or more of a story disappears, but that’s no problem. In the finished product, the theme needs to be implicit from the start, and the rest of the story should work to complete the argument of the opening, avoiding anything that does not contribute to that end. I’ve never had any formal training in writing, but I learnt how to edit during the time I spent on Alex Keegan’s online ‘Bootcamp’.
- Do you ever illustrate your own or other people’s fictions?
I’ve recently fully illustrated a novel I co-wrote with John Benn (The Driftwood Tree, Circaidy Gregory Press), and have also illustrated a few books for other writers, but I am emphatically not a children’s illustrator. I need to be inspired by the text, and children’s books are never going to do that for me.
- What creative projects do you have on the go at the moment?
I’ve just put the finishing touches to last year’s NaNoWriMo novel and am now poised to send it out. The opening chapters have already been listed in a couple of competitions, so that bodes well, I hope, but there are no guarantees. I like dedicating one month a year to drafting large scale works so I can spend the rest of the year editing at my leisure. I’ve also recently joined an Irish folk/rock band, ‘Share the Darkness’, as their fiddle player, and I’m having a ball. I’m not going to knock the string quartet playing I used to do, but let’s just say people never get up to dance to Beethoven. Artwise, I’ve been feeding my addiction for TV appearances and am a contestant on this year’s Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist of the Year’, having previously been on ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’. As we’re coming up to Christmas, I’m busy with portrait commissions. People this year, rather than dogs, I’m glad to say. Last year everyone seemed to want dogs.
- And we’re asking all our winners this – special place, time of day for writing?
I’m often up and writing by six in the morning, and will write off and on most of the day. My best writing happens on my laptop at my dining room table. The light is good, it’s quiet, it’s comfortable, and I can have whatever music on I want. I can’t write by hand to save my life – probably a dyslexia thing – so I’m not someone who goes everywhere with a notebook. My typing is very quick, allows for instant editing without making a mess, and of course it’s legible.
- Finally a tip for anyone who wants to enter the latest round of Bath Flash Fiction Award?
You’re going to have to stand out from the crowd to be noticed in the first instance, so don’t ease the reader in gently. Sock it to them with that first sentence.