Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sorts of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today, I’m chatting to the horror writer, Catherine McCarthy. Catherine, like myself, is one of the writers featured in the Women of Horror Anthology, Vol 3 The One that Got Away published by Kandisha Press
Please may I welcome you, Catherine to the tearoom. As always my first question to my guests is what would you like to drink?
Thank you for inviting me to tearoom. Make mine a latte, please, and a chocolate muffin wouldn’t go amiss.
Now we have our refreshments let me ask you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
I’ve always been drawn to the dark side. I like to pick apart that bit of ourselves we only tap into when we’re alone. You know, the bit of our own psyche we’re afraid of because we know it has the potential to both make or break us. This is why I tend to focus on the psychological aspects of horror as opposed to the physical.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
Hidden beneath the smiling veneer is a mischievous imp who refuses to conform. I might look as though butter wouldn’t melt, but I was a bit of a wild child during the 80’s. Rock concerts, Goth clubs, hair shaved at the sides etc. And those are just the things I’m willing to admit to publicly.
As I’ve aged my inner imp has mellowed somewhat. Its rebellious nature is still very much alive, but its actions are tame compared to when I was younger.
Do you set yourself a daily word count?
I’m very much a creature who thrives on routine, very organized, must have everything accomplished way before deadlines etc. However, I like to break the habit when it comes to writing and prefer to go with the flow. Sometimes I write or edit no more than a few paragraphs, other times I may write several thousand words. It’s nice to have a more relaxed attitude when it comes to the thing I enjoy doing most, though I still stress if a deadline looms.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
I’m quite disciplined when it comes to seeing projects through to the end. I have one unfinished short story, based on a real event, and a part-written novella that may never see the light of day. When I was around the age of ten I went to see the evening performance of a circus on ice. We were kept waiting for ages before being allowed into the theatre, the reason being that during the matinee performance one of the trapeze artists had fallen and broken his back. When we were finally admitted, they were still cleaning the ice. I distinctly remember miserable-faced clowns brushing the blood-spattered ice with wide-head brooms. Very Ray Bradbury! I must finish writing that short!
With regards to the novella, the day we moved into our 200 year old farmhouse, the previous owner handed us an antique tin. “These are the things which were found during house renovations,” she said.
Inside sat a bird’s skull, a few small bones, and an empty packet of cigarettes dating from the 1920’s. Hence the start of a ghost story.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
During my years as a teacher I saw many philosophies come and go about how best to teach writing. The one I swear by is Adrienne Gear’s Writing Power, in which she advocates there are six basic traits to writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. This philosophy teaches children to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and offers strategies for developing the weaker traits. Adult writers are no different.
I would say my personal strengths are voice and word choice and my weakness is ideas. Finding the original inspiration is easy, but developing the idea into a story can be a struggle for me. I solve it by lying somewhere quiet and sending myself into a kind of meditative state where I visualize the story as I happens. That way, the characters usually lead me out of the fuddle.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My current project is a novella entitled Immortelle, which, I’m thrilled to say, will be published by Off Limits Press in summer 2021. It began life as a short story, told from the point of view of a child ghost. However, the mood of the story continued to itch at me and so I decided to expand it into a novella. Essentially it’s still a ghost story, but unrecognizable from the short story I birthed a year ago. It’s told from a different point of view, has a different opening, story progression, ending etc. but the physical element of the Victorian immortelle remains.
Throughout Wales, and especially in more untouched regions such as where I live, Victorian immortelles can still be found in graveyards. Intended as permanent memorials to the dead, they consist of ceramic flowers, birds, cherubs and such like. These ‘permanent’ memorials are arranged on a base and covered with a glass dome before being placed on the graves of the deceased. Such things appeal to my macabre nature, and for this story I imagined a ceramicist who begins to create customized immortelles as a means of coming to terms with a personal trauma. I dare not reveal more without giving spoilers, but I am hugely excited for this publication.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
Immortelle is told from the point of view of a ceramicist. The magical realism elements of the story involved knowledge of glaze recipes, different clays, kilns etc. Fortunately, my husband studied ceramics as part of his degree, but I also needed to do a fair bit of research to discover those used around 1910 which is when the story is set. I also needed to research popular ceramic artists from that date so that I could weave in those elements.
How do you select the names of your characters and do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
Since my story is set in Wales, I needed to come up with Welsh names that were not too difficult to read or pronounce. They also needed to have been popular around the turn of the 20th Century. Also, my characters must ‘look’ like their name, i.e. the physical image I have of them in my mind must be reflected in the name I choose.
With regards to the second half of the question, the answer is no. My characters grow and develop alongside the story.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
One of the main characters in Immortelle is an eleven-year-old girl named Rowena. I once taught a young girl who was very similar in personality. She was an absolute darling. Her head was stuck in a book from the moment she entered the classroom door, throughout break, lunchtime, and even during school trips. Like Rowena, she didn’t suffer fools gladly. She didn’t seem to care about fitting in or what the other children thought of her. She was one of six children and the family didn’t have much in the material sense but she was well cared for, loved, and her mum never missed a single parent’s evening for any of her children. I was so upset to learn that during 2020 her mum died of cancer at the age of 38.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The scenes in immortelle that deal with the grieving process were the hardest. I have a fair understanding of how it works from personal experience, but not from the point of view of a parent. I wanted to deal with the whole gamut of emotion without over-sentimentalising.
This was the main reason I decided not to include the funeral scene. Instead, I wrote an important pre-cursor scene, then alluded to it afterwards.
Thanks for the cuppa, Paula! Like you, I’m so looking forward to the release of Volume 3, The One That Got Away. If anyone is interested in finding out more about my forthcoming novella or my other work, please find me at… https://www.catherine-mccarthy-author.com/
or… Link to my collection, Door and other twisted tales… mybook.to/doortwistedtales
Thank you for joining me in the tearoom, Catherine. Our driver will run you home, when you’re ready to leave.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Members’ Books, don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops, too.