An Interview with Catherine Evans, author of The Wrong’un
Catherine Evans’s novel, The Wrong’un, was released by Unbound in May 2018. She’s the founder of www.pennyshorts.com, a website which offers short stories of all genres to readers around the world. She’s a trustee of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and sponsor of the ChipLitFest Short Story Competition. She lives with her husband in Oxfordshire and has a daughter and three stepdaughters.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
I abandoned my first novel for good. It was a thinly disguised memoir of a very turbulent time in my life. It’s intensely intimate, like reading my own secret diary.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Observation. The older you get the happier you are to just sit and watch.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
If I was a hermit I’m sure I could pump out a novel a year. My head is always way ahead of my hands; I have the next few books juggling around in my head.
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I can write anywhere, usually directly onto my laptop, often with pencil and paper. The kitchen table is my favourite place because it’s warm and close to the kettle and I really don’t mind interruptions. I love working late into the night when everyone else is asleep; often I realise with a start that it’s 3am, my hands and feet are iceblocks and I have to get up in a couple of short hours for the school run, but I go to bed happy as I’ve done 3,000 words. Those are good nights.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
I have an old schoolfriend who is a natural bookworm, and several other friends from the writer’s groups that I’ve been part of for the past 15 years who are always happy to read whatever I give them, so I’ve never used a beta-reader. My publisher, Unbound, assigned me my editor after I specifically requested her, as she had done such a wonderful job editing ‘A Thing Of The Moment’, by Bruno Noble, a friend with the same publisher. I was lucky she was available; she was forensic in her thoroughness and she really cared about the manuscript, the story, the voice and the characters. I accepted 99% of her suggestions, and I feel that the resulting book is ours, not just mine.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I love the look, feel and smell of a real book, the covers, the blurbs and I like to know exactly how far along I am and to be able to flip back and forth between the pages. E-books are very useful for travelling, and I often download the sample chapters, but there’s very little I love more than browsing for books, whether it’s in bookshops, in charity shops or at car boot sales, and whenever I go to someone’s house, I can’t stop myself from looking at the books on show. E-books will never replace real books.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I’m happy to read any genre as long as I care about the characters. I love books that confound genre, for example David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. I don’t much care for romance (reading about it, that is), but I loved David Nicholl’s very unconventional love story ‘One Day’. My tastes have definitely changed over time. I’ve become a much more critical reader, and I seldom finish a book without thinking about what the writer could have done to make it stronger.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I perform all the usual tasks that fall under the role of mother; feeding, instructing, lecturing, nagging, hectoring, threatening, bribing and chauffeuring. I’m a trustee of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, now in its seventh year. We’re always scheming and dreaming up new ways to raise cash, including running writer’s workshops and Open Mic events. Every year in the run-up I wonder why I do it, then I always enjoy the Festival weekend so much and the feedback we receive always fills me with renewed passion for the following year. I’m the Editor of www.pennyshorts.com, a website which publishes short stories of all genres from writers around the world online, making them available for free download. It now features around 200 stories from new and established writers and is steadily growing.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
Much to my disgust too. Social media provides an anonymous forum for the most appalling rudeness and sheer vitriol, which then spills over into all other spheres of life. I seldom read a thread that doesn’t disintegrate into childish name-calling, and the inane virtue-signalling, loud calls for apologies and screams that this or that is ‘offensive’ can get incredibly boring.
Saying all that, when I add new stories to pennyshorts I tweet about them with a suitable picture and also post about them on Facebook with some info about the author. I’ve been told to open an Instagram account and to start an Author’s page on Facebook, but there never seems to be enough minutes in the day. That doesn’t mean I won’t do it, it just means it’s not high up on my list. It all seems to be a giant echo chamber. I’ve had a twitter account for three years, and have never read a book promoted by a tweet. Sometimes I get unsolicited direct messages from Indie authors, one of which was ‘I’d drink battery acid to get you to download a sample chapter of my book.’ Really? Please don’t, and no thanks.
As you don’t maximise social media, what do you do instead?
I think old-fashioned word of mouth is the most powerful way to promote books. Books demand something of their readers, and if you inhabit the world of a novel for a few hours of your life and love it, you will want others to share that experience. When a friend whose judgement I trust tells me that they loved a particular book, I pay attention, and will read it. I love reading book reviews in newspapers and magazines and online too. I get a lot of ideas from the Sunday Times ‘Culture’ mag.
Now that your first book is out, what’s next?
I’m actively working on two books simultaneously: a novel which examines the pernicious effects of early sexualisation on young girls and a non-fiction book about the philosophical teachings of Martial Arts, and how it can be of benefit in all spheres of life. Once I’m done with those, I’d like to write my mother’s life story. She grew up on a farm in rural Transvaal in the 40s and 50s and studied at the University of Cape Town in the 60s, where she met my father. She’s not a writer, but she’s a born storyteller, and has a unique perspective of South African history and apartheid and many tales to tell about farm life, relationships, neighbours, family and community dynamics. Lastly, I’d like to turn a three act play I wrote several years ago into a novel. So that’s four books in total that have yet to see the light of day – should keep me busy for the next few years.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
Not at all. It’s like free therapy, innit?