Inspiration and Influences: A Writer’s Journey

Catherine explores the childhood roots of her writing passion, and how she keeps her creativity alive against the tide of Writer’s Block.

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© 2016 Seb Reilly / Used With Permission

Fellow writers of a certain age will remember the 1980s children’s TV programme, Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Do Something Less Boring Instead? It was a great show, possibly a little low-key for today’s audiences, but in a roundabout way it led me to become first an avid reader, and then by natural evolution, an avid writer. Because, as a child, when I switched off my television set, I would dive headfirst into a book.

I’d spend hours in my local library, browsing the shelves with a mixture of envy and adoration, wanting be immersed in the worlds that would open up for me as soon as I selected a book and took it to the counter to be stamped out. Lounging on my bed with a bar of Galaxy and a brand-new novel was an absolute treat. Today, just wandering around a library or bookshop will conjure all sorts of ideas and nuggets that feed my imagination.

This long-standing love for books was ignited in my childhood by seeing my mother and older sister constantly reading. I was able to dip into novels beyond my reading ability (broadening my mind and pleasing my teachers no end). There was nothing more comforting than seeing a stack of new hardbacks from the library by my mother’s chair waiting to be explored. From Jackie Collins to Jean Plaidy, and Wilbur Smith and Mazo de la Roche (we didn’t have particularly literary tastes), we would devour them, our reading list peppered with the odd classic here and there. And almost by some sort of intellectual osmosis, I found myself wanting to create my own stories, my own worlds just like the ones I had been absorbed in.

I began to make books, prime little examples of juvenilia, from folded up pieces of paper, stapled and scruffily illustrated. I progressed, as I reached my teens, by investing in a typewriter (manual of course, this was the 1980s!). It was at this point that I read the Brontës and knew that my course was set. I began tapping away at bodice rippers and dreadful gothic romances that would make me blush today if I hadn’t shredded the lot in the early 2000s.

My first book was published in 2008, so it was a long haul. Before this, I’d spent many years attempting to write what I thought were reasonably mature contemporary novels. These early works, I see now, were all part of the steep learning curve that writers must navigate. When confidence was high I’d trawl through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for names of suitable agents and publishers, send off submissions, enter ‘first novel’ competitions and then sit back to wait for the inevitable rejections to roll in. When confidence was low, I’d escape into the private world of other people’s books—favourite authors include Kate Atkinson, Barbara Kingsolver and Mary Wesley—become inspired and the cycle would start again.

It was hard to face these setbacks, but I like to think I rose above them and allowed the harsh experiences to make me more determined. And I’m sure this is what most writers find hard to pin point: where does this drive come from and why do we keep going? I guess we must live to write, not write to live, and tap into our creativity whenever and wherever we can.

But what do I do when inspiration fails, when I’m in the frustrating and scary depths of writer’s block? I find that half the battle is recognising that I have the dreaded ‘block’; a symptom for me is lack of confidence and very lazy writing.

Firstly, while trying not to panic, I do something else creative. I read books outside of my genre, I listen to music, I watch films, I go for long walks and stay away from my laptop. I try to let my mind drift to allow my imagination to click back in to gear. And, still avoiding the laptop, I sit down with pen and paper and force myself to work through the problem, whether it is that there is something wrong with the plot or the characters. Finally, as these things are the killers of creativity, I resist checking my social media and I most certainly switch off that television set.

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Author and freelance sub editor Catherine Law has known and loved Thanet for 25 years…so much so that she moved here in 2014.

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