We catch up with Cathy as her 20th book, The Family Gift, is released. Enjoy a reading from Cathy herself, and find out what she hopes you’ll love about the story…
Cathy reads for you…
Cathy on inspiration, characters and baking brownies!
Congratulations on writing your 20th book! How has the writing and publishing process changed since your first?
Thank you! Gosh, when I wrote my first book, I was utterly astonished that anyone would want to read a thing I’d written. I was a journalist but this was totally different. This was me writing about things I’d made up. When I got my first publishing contract, I was stunned. Since then, things have changed hugely. I worked full time and wrote three books but now I simply write and make coffee/have biscuits/let the dogs out/put the washing on/all the other things you do when you work from home. I’m still incredibly nervous when I send a book out into the world but my sister and now my sons remind me that it will be OK. I always get stuck in the middle and decide I’m hopeless, but they say ‘you were like that last time, Mum!’ I think the brain likes to forget simple truths.
Where do you look for inspiration for ideas for your novels?
Inspiration is everywhere! I never, ever use real people – I completely make it up but life is so inspiring. I talk to everyone. Going to my village to buy milk takes an hour as I talk to half the village and if you are interested in people, ideas just spark off in your brain. I am endlessly enthusiastic for new things, so am always reading too and want to learn new things, which all help my brain come up with ideas. I wish I was a faster typist – and I am fast – as I could write two books a year!
Tell me a bit about what you hope readers will love about The Family Gift…
The Family Gift is about family life as it often is: messy, complicated, funny, sad and lovely. We all have wonderful times and hard times, so Freya’s going through a hard time even though to the outside world, she’s a successful TV chef and has it all. On the inside, she’s scared of something that happened to her, worried about her darling daughter’s birth mother coming back into their lives, and also worried about her dear mum, who is taking care of Freya’s father, who had a stroke. I like to write books about strong women who go through some tough times but come out the other side, and being Irish, they’re full of humour. I love to think that books make us feel less alone and if you read a book and it strikes a chord with you, that is a gift.
Do you identify with Freya, or is she inspired by women in your life?
Freya’s always worrying, which is so me, therefore, I do identify with her! The Family Gift is the first book I’ve written in the first person (I rather than she), and that style of writing does make one feel closer to the character. That said, she is still not me – she’s a TV chef and although I am addicted to cooking shows and love The Great British Bake Off, I am no chef! My brownies are very good, though.
We loved reading about Mildred – do you think all women have an inner voice like her?
I love Mildred!!! I imagine everyone has an inner voice who tells them off for wearing their track suit bottoms non-stop and it’s been such a delight to me to find that people have them! But not every woman. I am so impressed with people who can control that inner voice…. Just not me. Currently, my Mildred is cross because my desk is untidy and she likes a tidy desk.. Poor Mildred. I am very messy. She will have to live with it!!!!!
Tell me about authors who inspire you and books which have made a particular impression on you…
SO many books have made impressions on me. I always think that a book will have a huge impression on you depending on when you read it, so if you are sad and you read a certain author and you feel touched, that book will always be a talisman. Teenage books can really stay with you – I adored Little Women, all the Jane Austens, Maeve Binchy and was entirely in love with the French writer, Colette, when I was about seventeen. Seamus Heaney’s poetry moves me hugely, too.
What tips would you give to aspiring novelists?
For aspiring writers, I’d say keep at it. It’s such a huge leap of faith to write and a lot of the time, you feel as though you are hopeless. I still do and I’ve just finished my twenty-first novel, so it’s much worse when you’re starting. But write what you love, not what you think critics will like. Read a lot – you simply cannot be a writer if you don’t read. And edit, edit and edit.
What’s next? Are you working on another book?
As I said, I’ve just finished another book – I am doing the final edits now, so after that, I need to clean out the fridge!! I swear there are things in there that Alexander Fleming would be impressed with. I also can’t wait to have coffee (socially distanced) with all my girlfriends as we have seen so little of each other lately. I have lots of gorgeous girlfriends and we hold each other up. We’re like super friends who all hold out hands to each other. I know that if I’m having a bad day, they’re there for me. Women truly are the best.