Thanet Writers Question Catherine Law
I am the author of five published romantic/saga novels, which are all set during the first half of the 20th century, in and around the First and Second World Wars. I was born in Harrow, Middlesex, but, having known and loved Thanet for the past twenty-five years, I finally succumbed to its allure in 2014 and moved here for good.
Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer but, naturally, I had to get a ‘proper’ job first. I started out as a secretary at the BBC in the days of manual typewriters and carbon copies (yes, a long time ago) before moving into the world of glossy interiors magazines where I have worked as a sub editor for nearly thirty years. I gave up my full-time job in 2015 to concentrate on my first love—writing—and I freelance on the magazines from time to time to keep the wolf from the door.
I was fascinated by books from an early age. I would be reading all the time: while eating my dinner, cleaning my teeth and wallowing in the bath. We didn’t have a lot of books at home, but we were great library-users and I would spend hours there, intrigued by the rows and rows of novels on the shelves and the different worlds they offered me; worlds that I could escape into. And when I wasn’t reading, I would be day-dreaming and recreating or mimicking the stories I had read. I used to make books by stapling pieces of paper together and conjuring tales of my own. By the time I was a teenager I progressed to my first manual typewriter and began tapping away at dreadful romances and historical bodice-rippers that were inevitably bound for the shredder. I dared to dream that I could do it. And I simply had to write. It was a long apprenticeship, however, and my first book, A Season of Leaves, was published in 2008.
My earliest author-crushes were an influence for me: from American children’s writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, with the word-pictures she painted of the Pioneer days of her youth, to Emily Brontë for her unpindownable wildness and bravery. I am drawn to the past, to recreating times gone, because I love to think that we possibly inherit ancestral memories, that as families we are all still connected, and that our grandparents and great-grandparents were really no different to how we are today. My novels are inspired by the tales that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers tell us, and perhaps the secrets they keep. At one point I dabbled in contemporary stories, but they did not suit my writing style, or my writer’s voice.
I am motived by a mad desire to create my own worlds and characters, settings and scenarios. I strive for that moment of bliss when the ideas and the magic is flowing in my mind, and the words somehow still make sense as they rush from my imagination to the tips of my fingers while I type. My motivation is the satisfaction of the story working, the wheels and cogs running smoothing; and it’s the need to create, the challenge to produce something tangible that can be sent off into the world to be enjoyed—I can only hope—by other book lovers. I want to connect; I want to transfer what I see in my head into someone else’s imagination.
When I’m in the throes of a story and am ‘on a roll’ I go to sleep imagining the next scene I want to write, so I can wake up with it fresh in my mind. I have to have the words forming as I sit down at my laptop. It’s no good for me to be staring at a blank page. And I’m an early bird; the quietness of a pre-dawn morning is the best time for actually getting the words down, while late at night, when my sub-conscience starts to drift, is when my most tangible ideas come to me.
Most of my novels are set during either the First or Second World War and the history of the whole of the first half of the 20th century constantly inspires me. I find it fascinating that these traumatic episodes were only twenty years apart and affected a vast amount of everyday people, more than war had ever done before. The conflicts were brought right into our homes and every family must have a story to tell. I wanted to capture the experiences of ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things in times of great sacrifice and danger. I feel that wartime brings out the worse and the best in us and in my books I have explored loyalty, fear, tragedy, separation and, of course, love against this dramatic backdrop.
Lack of confidence and comparing myself to others is a killer for me. At the moment I am struggling to embrace my latest work-in-progress and realise that I have fallen out of love with it. I want to get back the buzz that I had when I was writing my earlier, breakthrough novels. I confess I am feeling a bit jaded at present, which is fatal to creativity.
It was a pretty special moment when I found out that my fourth book Map of Stars (set in Thanet during the Second World War) was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelist Association Historical Novel Award 2017. And it then being translated into German this year was also wonderful. But the greatest achievement has to be the publication of my first book A Season of Leaves—based on the true wartime experiences of my great-auntie Ginge—which has its tenth anniversary this year.
Keep going. Believe you can do it. Turn off your phone. And remember who your readers are.
The First Dance (published by Zaffre), my fifth novel, which came out earlier this year, is top of the promotion agenda. The story opens in Cornwall in the 1920s when Alexa leaves behind Harvey, her childhood friend (and the man she doesn’t know she loves), to travel to Venice. She is searching for her estranged Italian grandmother who holds the key to the secrets and the rift in her family. I take the reader through to the 1930s and then to the 1980s, when Alexa looks back at her life in a story described as “an enthralling novel of love and lost chances.”
Next is cracking the menace that is my sixth ‘difficult’ work-in-progress novel. After two false starts, I know that I need to get back to the heart of the tale—the story I wanted to tell in the first place but got side-tracked along the way. I have recently signed up for the Faber Academy five-day course Who do you think they are? Getting into character to help me. After all, character is plot. Watch this space!
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© 2018 Catherine Law
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Author and freelance sub editor Catherine Law has known and loved Thanet for 25 years...so much so that she moved here in 2014.