I am delighted to welcome to Jaffareadstoo the author
|Photo credit : David Berger|
Hello, Catherine it's really lovely to have you as our guest on the blog today. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. As a child I would always have my nose in a book and many hours were passed in my local library, browsing the shelves with a mixture of envy and adoration, immersed in the worlds that would open up for me as soon as I selected a book. I found myself creating my own stories just like the ones I had been drawn into, making little books out of pieces of paper stapled together and filling them with my tales.
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 discovered the Brontes and knew that my course was set. I had to write and began tapping away at bodice rippers and gothic romances that would make me blush today if I hadn’t shredded the lot years ago.
And so the long-haul began. My first book, A Season of Leaves – inspired by the true Second World War-time story of my great-auntie Ginge – was published in 2008. 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, or an apprenticeship, 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 again into other people’s books – favourite authors are Kate Atkinson, Barbara Kingsolver and Mary Wesley – become inspired and start again.
In the meantime, I forged a ‘proper’ career as a sub editor on glossy home interiors magazines, and during this time had my first three novels published. I loved my job but, last year, I found myself in the position to be able to give up full-time journalism to concentrate on writing and pursue my dream.
Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Map of Stars?
The germ of the idea for Map of Stars crept up on me like a spy. I’d wanted to write about being on the ‘home front’ in the Second World War, tapping into characters living through terrifying times: ordinary people doing extraordinary things. If you stand on the cliffs at Dover, on the Kent coast, you can see France in the haze across a stretch of water that looks, in some lights, entirely swimmable. I was fascinated by what it must have been like to live here during the 1940s, in plain sight of the enemy and under the flight path of the bombers heading for London.
I had the title for Map of Stars – created while I was ‘doodling’ with words – before I had the story. The plot was sparked by a news report about a mummified homing pigeon discovered trapped in a Kentish chimney a few years ago, complete with war-time message still strapped to its leg. And there was my story: my heroine Eliza receiving a cryptic message from her missing lover Lewis, twenty years after the war had finished. And from there her story ignited.
Will you explain to us a little more about the plot without giving too much away?
Set amid the turmoil of the Second World War, Map of Stars explores secrets, lies, loyalty and, of course, love. Eliza’s family is close to her childhood friend Nicholas’s family due to their fathers’ comradeship during the First World War. Everyone expects Eliza and Nicholas to marry and, as war breaks out in 1939, he proposes. However, when the enigmatic Lewis saves them both from the wreck of their car, Eliza is drawn to him and her guilt compels her to hurry up her wedding to Nicholas. After their marriage, the War Office takes over their home – a beautiful Kentish manor house – as a communications base, with Lewis as commander. Eliza falls desperately in love with Lewis but when she finally ends their affair, his attention is taken by glamorous local girl Jessica. The enemy is waiting just miles away across the Channel. However, for Eliza, dangers a lot closer to home threaten to jeopardise the safety of her country and destroy her life.
How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer?
My approach is to create a scenario, characters, a setting and a ‘feeling’ for what might happen– and this often comes to me if I try not to think too hard. Ideas develop in a sort of organic way, when I’m not really looking for them, and I let all these images and thoughts ferment for a while. I sometimes have an idea of how I want the story to end, sometimes I don’t. I’m definitely a ‘see where it goes’ kind of writer, allowing the story to unfold before me as I write. At the moment I am planning my next book and panicking a little as I have intriguing characters and timeframe and nowhere to take them at the moment. But, I know that I need to relax and let my mind drift – and allow the magic of imagination to happen.
Your book is a mixture of war and romance – how much research was needed to bring the book to life?
I try hard to create a believable world for my characters. As I have not lived through the times that I am portraying – my books have so far been set in the Second or First World Wars – I have to track down the people who have. I devour real-life accounts of experiences of war, and I go to the places where I set my stories. I feel that I have to see somewhere to be able to bring it to life, and begin an emotional attachment with it. I have visited Normandy during the D-Day anniversary celebrations and the battlefields of the Western Front. Local museums are a goldmine of stories to glean ideas from; and most intriguing for me are objects preserved from the past, however humble. And visiting the great cities of Prague and Venice twice for research was wonderful!
I want my stories to be credible and I need to do justice to the those who lived through traumatic periods and make the settings authentic and real. Newspaper headlines from the day are invaluable because they reveal what the public knew at that time (perhaps less than we do now). And snippets of information discovered by chance can set me off on a totally unexpected course.
As an author, what is your favourite part of the writing/publishing process?
I love every bit of it. From the early days of toying with a slowing evolving idea, when my story is my own private secret, through to the surprising plot twists half way through that seem to come from nowhere. Even the hard slog of getting it written is pretty enjoyable due to the rush of adrenalin when I am fired up and motivated. And nothing beats opening the box of newly published books delivered to my doorstep. But, best of all, I love to hear what my readers think of my novels – to receive encouraging feedback is priceless.
What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
I want them to feel that the story stays with them and is still continuing long after they’ve turned the last page. And that the characters go on with their lives.
More about Catherine can be found her website by clicking here
Find her on Facebook and Twitter @cathmarialaw
Huge thanks to Catherine for spending time with us today and for sharing her thoughts about
Map of Stars.
Thanks also to Carmen at Bonnier Zaffre for her help with this interview and for my review copy of Map of Stars.
My review can be found by clicking here.