Our Author Profile series continues on the website today, featuring the very prolific and talented Cath Barton.
Cath has appeared on our short- and long-lists numerous times. Her July 2020 shortlisted story Radio Times was included in our first short story anthology.
Cath is an English writer who lives in Wales, author of two novellas, The Plankton Collector (2018), New Welsh Review, and In the Sweep of the Bay (2020), Louise Walters Books. Both available direct from the publisher, or from any good bookshop, or https://uk.bookshop.org/ Read more about Cath’s work on her website https://cathbarton.com/ or follow her on Twitter.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
Like everyone else, I’ve been living in a world which has changed radically over the past year. More than ever, writing for me is about making sense of my world, if you like creating a sphere in which I have control, though I do find that sometimes it’s my characters who are in control.
I write about relationships – and that’s what you’ll find in my longer work, my published novellas and short stories. I also like to write short fiction, sometimes very short, and that’s where I experiment with subject matter and, sometimes, form. I like the weird and the wonderful!
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I’ve always written, one way or another, but I’ve only focussed on fiction seriously for the past ten years or so. My husband was in a writing group, and I gatecrashed it. I had a notion I’d like to do travel writing, though in practice I’ve done very little of that.
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
Writing is a very important part of my life, though I’m glad I don’t depend on it for money. I like to write first thing in the morning, to do an hour or so before breakfast. Getting up and going straight to my desk with a cup of tea works for me. I think that in that not-quite-awake state I get best access to my subconscious. This is easier in the summer; getting up in the dark is difficult.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
During the first lockdown I couldn’t write at all for months, couldn’t even read. I felt as if my brain was frozen; I think it was a kind of defence mechanism. What got me going again was freewriting. I was able to join a Zoom group for a five-minute freewrite every weekday and I really welcomed that. We didn’t discuss our writing, or even do more than say hello and goodbye, but it was good to do this alongside others. Also, the online literary journal The Cabinet of Heed invited stream of consciousness submissions, and that got me back into writing, and if not stories, at least the beginnings of them again.
Now that I’ve adjusted to changed times, I’m writing much as I was before the pandemic. That’s to say in fits and starts.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
I’m currently in the middle of the first draft of a sequel to my novella In the Sweep of the Bay, though as the events in the new work take place both before and after the period in which that is set, it’s a prequel too, so what’s that, a sprequel?
I also have another novella-length piece I wrote a few years ago. I’m thinking of it for a competition entry, but it needs kicking into life, so that’s my next job. I’ll do that alongside continuing work on the sprequel.
I don’t want to say anything about the specifics of either piece at this stage, except that the first is set in Morecambe and the second in Wales.
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
I count myself very lucky to have had two books published in the last few years. In 2017 I won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella for The Plankton Collector, and the prize included publication. That was such an affirmation of my writing, and really encouraged me to continue. I wrote an attempt at a novella-in-flash. It didn’t work in that form, but it subsequently became my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which was published (during lockdown) by Louise Walters Books.
It’s a wonderful feeling to see my work in print. I really appreciated having my story Radio Times in the first Cranked Anvil Anthology. At the end of last year I had a story, Goosey, in the five-year anniversary issue of the Wales-based literary journal The Lonely Crowd. It’s a very prestigious place to be published, and I feel very proud to have my work in there.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
I usually write at a computer in what we call the ‘office’, upstairs in our house in Abergavenny. We live on a busy road and the traffic hasn’t reduced much during any of the lockdown periods, but it’s a familiar background noise. Sometimes, if a double-decker farm lorry comes past, I see sheep outside the window. I tidy the desk next to my computer table from time to time. Just now it’s cluttered.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
I don’t think I have any new advice, but one thing that I would recommend is to read your work out loud. That way you not only pick up typos (I’m a terrible proofreader) but also, if you find yourself stumbling or hesitating, it’s probably because the rhythm’s wrong.
Finally, some quickfire answers:
Planner or pantser? Pantser (mostly)
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? Computer
Do you write every day? I aim for five days a week
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? If I’m working on the first draft of a substantial piece, yes. Otherwise no.
If you’d like to enter our short story competition, with a chance to win cash prizes, publication here on our website, plus possible future prit anthologies, take a look at all the details on how to enter here.