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Today we’re traveling to Dublin to chat with Catherine Kullmann. She and I discuss how retirement, family trees, table plans, elephants, Jane Austen, dreaming of scenes, and a travel notebook come together as part of Catherine’s life and writing style. Get ready as we’re stepping back into the first quarter of the nineteenth century for this one.
Tell us a bit about you.
I’m Irish and live (again) in Dublin in my old family home. I have been married for over forty-five years, the first twenty-six of which I spent in Germany, my husband’s native country. We returned to Ireland twenty years ago this year. I worked as an administrator in the public and private sectors and took early retirement ten years ago. It was only then that I had the time to write.
In which genre do you write?
I write historical romantic fiction set in the extended Regency period in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
How many published books do you have?
Four novels and a gothic short story that was the result of a challenge to write about ‘period zombies’.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I have always loved writing, and drafting was an important part of my professional life. I did not have the time, energy and mental space to write fiction until my retirement.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I draw up elaborate fictional family trees for my main characters, going back several generations. If I am writing an important scene at a dinner, I’ll draw up a table plan, working out who sits next to whom and I draw floor-plans of my characters’ homes. The odd thing about this is that I am hopeless at drawing!
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
I love elephants and have quite a collection of small ones in all sorts of materials. I think they would be good guardians and protectors.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
I am very fortunate to have a lovely study with a bay window. Bookcases for my research library and framed engravings of my period vie for space on the walls. I don’t have a radio or CD player; although I love music I find it too distracting when I write.
What are you currently reading?
Martin Walker’s latest book in his Bruno, Chief of Police series; The Body in the Castle Well. We know the Dordogne area of France where they are set quite well and it is always a joy to return there in spirit. Unfortunately, every time I read one of his books I say, ‘We must go back to the Dordogne’ although there are so many other places we want to visit and revisit.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I read, listen to classical music, travel, go to the opera or concerts, meet friends.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author or famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Jane Austen. If she did not think it too presumptuous a question, I would like to know why she avoids showing how her characters arrive at their happy end. She tells rather than shows, at times very briefly. No modern editor would let her get away with it. I would love to read another couple of chapters of Mansfield Park, showing us how Fanny’s and Edmund’s relationship change and to hear what Anne and Captain Wentworth said on their walk in Persuasion.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
That I had the stamina and self-discipline not only to write the first draft of a novel of one hundred thousand words but also to continue through the arduous refining process of editing, editing and editing again. And having done it once, to do it again! And also that I had the courage to present my writing to the world.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or experienced to help create a scene or plot?
I have dreamt at least two scenes, out of sequence, but waking with such a vivid impression of them that I have written them down at once and then left them until I reached the appropriate part of the draft. If I’m writing an elaborate dance scene, say with the Regency waltz, I get my husband to walk through the steps with me so that I am sure the arm positions and turns are correct.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary?
I have a travel notebook where I jot down impressions and ideas when I am away from home but that is all.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
I practise my talk aloud over and over again. I also read aloud the extracts I propose to read to the group and note if there is any section I am inclined to stumble over. Before I start, I square my shoulders, take a deep breath and smile.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Nothing. I had a happy and unremarkable childhood and was more than ready to reach adulthood.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
None, really, but then the only cartoons I remember are Bugs Bunny and Micky Mouse.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
He says, “Can you tell me the way to the Ice Bar?”
Do you believe things happen for a reason?
No. I don’t believe in fate but in free will, even if the consequences are sometimes harsh. It is up to us to deal with what happens to us as best we can.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I am clear-minded and honest, also with myself.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
Glenmalure, a valley in Co. Wicklow. You can sit on a grassy bank beside burbling stream and listen to the bird-song as peace envelops you.
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
On the rare occasions where my husband is away for a whole day, I enjoy having the house to myself. I potter a little, cook a nice meal, open a bottle of wine and, ideally, settle down with a new book by a favourite author that I have saved just for this.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
Some characters slip into your books unplanned and unheralded only to play a pivotal role there. So it was with Flora, the young Duchess of Gracechurch. Flora’s own story reveals itself more slowly. Married before she was seventeen and trapped in a loveless marriage, she befriends young wives whose husbands are ‘distant,’ helping them find their feet in the ton. The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion Books One and Two of the Duchess of Gracechurch Trilogy, tell the stories of two of these wives. My latest book is Book Three, The Duke’s Regret, and Flora herself takes the lead.
Thank you for your interest in me and my writing.
Thank you Catherine for sharing insights into your life and writing style. It was such a pleasure having you be a part of MTA. All the best to you! – Camilla
The Duke’s Regret
A chance meeting with a bereaved father makes Jeffrey, Duke of Gracechurch realise how hollow his own marriage and family life are. Persuaded to marry at a young age, he and his Duchess, Flora, live largely separate lives. Now he is determined to make amends to his wife and children and forge new relationships with them. Flora does not know how to respond to her husband’s suggestion. Can Jeffrey break down the barriers between them and convince her that his change of heart is sincere? Flora must decide if she will hazard her heart and her hard won peace of mind for a prize of undreamt of happiness.