Today we travel to Rawtenstall, a small town in Lancashire, England, to chat with Catherine Marshall about how Jackie magazine, visiting the south of France and southern Africa, being bored as a child, the idea of revenge, teaching creative writing, procrastination, freedom, and St Ives in Cornwall come together as part of Catherine’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in Rawtenstall, a small town in Lancashire, England with my husband. I’m originally from Longbridge, on the Birmingham/Worcestershire borders, and left when I was eighteen to do a degree in Literature and Theatre Studies. I began writing for Jackie magazine when I was a teenager, and went on to contribute many short stories and serials to various women’s magazines. I sold two romantic novels and had some deluded idea that my career as a writer had begun. Since then, I’ve had several agents, written and published a few more novels, and worked mostly in education.
In which genre do you write?
My first published novels were romances, because I’d been to the south of France and southern Africa and I knew exotic settings were often a key feature of romantic novels. After a long break, I wrote Masquerade, which my agent said she was going to sell as a psychological thriller. It’s a genre I love to read, so I wrote two more, and they are all currently published by Sharpe Books. My latest novel is a family saga, because the characters have been in my head for years and I wanted to tell their stories.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
When I was a child. During the summer holidays between primary and secondary school, I complained about being bored and my mother suggested writing a story. The story became a book, called The Ravenscroft Family, which I also illustrated. I look back at it and cringe, but at the time it felt like such an achievement. After that, I wrote all the time, mostly for my own amusement, and dreamed of one day becoming an author. It has always been the only thing I’ve wanted to do.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished The Guest List by Lucy Foley, which is a master-class in writing a page-turner.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
The idea for Still Water came from wondering how far someone might go if pushed, and what ‘being pushed’ might constitute. What extreme might someone go to due to rage and disappointment? How far would other factors (eg the character’s back story) make a difference, and how could I write about that so that the extreme act seems both shocking and psychologically true? I’m very interested in the idea of revenge, and what form that might take; it’s the theme of all three of my psychological thrillers.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I work, usually short-term and part-time, usually in education. I particularly enjoyed teaching creative writing and drama in primary schools. I also love crafts and interior design, though on a very amateur basis.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
That I am very good at procrastination! And that it’s ok (though perhaps this is more about the process than about me) because writing has to happen in your head before it can happen on the page or screen. Even when I’m procrastinating I’m thinking about the story. So that’s another surprising thing, that often it helps if you’re not sitting in front of a blank page. I had the best idea for one of my books whilst crossing a busy road. Luckily I didn’t stop for too long to think about it!
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
The freedom. Not only the freedom of being your own boss, but the freedom of being able to create worlds. Playing God with your characters. Of course, it’s only freedom up to a point, in terms of the insecurity that comes with being self-employed as well as needing to write something that someone will buy, but still. Freedom.
What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss: the sense of my whole life being in front of me, untrodden and full of promise; lying in bed hearing my parents’ voices downstairs and feeling utterly secure; spending time with my grandparents.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
Laura in Glories, as her relationships with all the other main characters are so varied. Also, she’s ahead of her time in that she goes to a London art school while most of her contemporaries are becoming secretaries. If I were her, I would pay as much attention to the people around me as to my own ambition, but that might be because I know what happens!
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I do, largely because I find it reassuring and it gives me hope. I did really badly in my English A level and couldn’t go to my university of choice. But I did get a place elsewhere, and met my husband there. He turned out to have applied to some of the same courses at the same universities I had, so we might have met anyway. It sort of felt like Fate.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I’ve always been a good listener, and found it easy to see other people’s points of view. I think this is hugely important in the creation of characters, and everything I write is character-driven. I’ve found that listening to people helps to understand motivation, and to write believable dialogue.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
St Ives in Cornwall. It is the most magical, inspiring place. I first went there on a family holiday when I was thirteen – so a very impressionable age! – and have returned many times since, more recently on an annual basis. It’s the setting for Still Water so I could be there in my head whilst sitting in my study in Lancashire.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a few different projects. The first is my family saga, Glories, which is intended to be a trilogy. The first book, set in the 1960s, is on query with a few agents. I’m very keen to write the second and third books, but want to wait to see whether there’s any uptake on the first. I’ve just adapted Masquerade as a stage play, primarily for a competition but also to see whether I could. And the third is a novel called Past Life, which is a ghost story.
Tell us about your most recent book.
My most recent published book is Still Water. It’s a psychological thriller set in Cornwall. One of the characters is emerging from an emotional crisis and attempting to rebuild a normal life. For a short time it seems that she has been successful, indeed, her life becomes so much better than she had dared hope. And then it’s all taken away.
It was was wonderful to have you on MTA, Catherine. It sounds like you are working on some fun projects! Wishing you all the best with future books and your amazing projects. – Camilla
Every summer Gil Hunt escapes to the same small town on the Cornish coast. He rents a studio overlooking the bay from Cecily, who owns the café below, and spends his evenings at the bar on the pier or at beach parties with his surf dude friends. Every summer is relaxed and hedonistic and exactly the same – which is just the way Gil likes it.
Except this year, Cecily seems subdued and hankering after change for reasons she cannot or will not explain. Gil, mindful of her restlessness, is distracted by a series of chance encounters with Jemima Gregory, daughter of a local artist. As Cecily spirals away from him and Jem draws him ever closer, Gil’s own actions tie him into a web of other people’s secrets from which there is only the most violent and shocking escape.
Stephen Lord is one of the good guys. He believes in justice, second chances and the power of redemption. He is also the headteacher of Rapton Community High School, where the pupils are running wild and the staff on the brink of mutiny.
Dean Bywater too is interested in justice. Fresh out of prison and seeking retribution for a tragedy rooted in his past, he returns to Rapton to find his fifteen year old nephew Callum poised between dreams of an army career and burgeoning criminality.
Meanwhile, A* student Todd is carrying a burden he cannot share even with ace teacher Finn Macallister or his sympathetic form tutor, new recruit Leigh Summers.
As the new school year begins, one small act of cruelty sets in motion a series of events which will have dreadful consequences for them all.
A week marooned among strangers seems to Anna to be the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself. Leaving behind the mess that her life has become to attend a Psychology summer school in Bath, she is hoping for some sense of perspective, perhaps even an escape.
But Anna comes to realise that she is not the only one searching for answers. Among her fellow students are Carys, who is being stalked by her abusive ex-husband, Michael, grieving for the loss of his wife, and Jack, enigmatic and nonchalant and hiding troubles of his own.
As the hottest week of the summer draws on, unsettling events spring from the shadows of their pasts. Reliving old passions and discovering new ones, Anna becomes aware of sinister undercurrents. And amid disappearances and death and the threat of violence, one of her new friends is guarding a terrible secret.
Where to find the books:
Still Water is published by Sharpe Books and is available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.
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