What started your writing journey?
To me, writing is the creation of alternative worlds. It’s a little bit like playing god for a pastime. Who wouldn’t want to do that? I know it’s a cliché, but I really did always want to be a writer. I wrote little plays and my own little magazines at school. At Uni I joined a drama group and wrote skits and sketches. When I was fourteen or fifteen I had the audacity (youthful self-belief?) to send off a collection of my teenage angsty poetry to Penguin. They declined to publish but it didn’t put me off! As an adult I self-published a book of slightly less angsty poetry, and co-wrote and directed an amateur musical (‘Honeybees: The Musical’ – the world’s first lesbian field hockey musical) which sold out performances in Brighton, Eastbourne and the famous RADA Studios (formerly the Drill Hall) off the West End of London. Writing a novel though was always the pinnacle of my desired writing achievements.
In the midst of panic, what do you do to stay grounded?
I spend time with my two-and-a-half year old son. There is nothing more grounding than young children. They don’t care about the outside world, your work, your writing, how important you might think you are. They just want you to come play dinosaurs with them all day every day. It certainly helps to put your work/life balance in perspective. My son has little idea what’s going on
with the coronavirus either so it’s nice just getting away from it all with a stegosaurus.
Any tips for aspiring writers currently using their time to start?
Yes, just go for it! I think that for some people this may be the perfect time to start writing that short story or poetry collection or novel they’ve always dreamed of writing, so make the most of it. Just write and write and write. I wouldn’t spend too much time on editing stuff right now – editing can be done later, when you’ve less space and time. And if you want to come out of this with the bones of something, then just sit down and start, rather than waiting for inspiration to hit you. You’ll soon discover if you need to stop and plot something out more before going on. But if you just want to write something and you’re not sure what, then why not keep a diary – these are extraordinary times and it will be something special to look back on in years to come.
Just as importantly, don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself to turn out a masterpiece during lockdown. OK, we all now know that Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, and Edvard Munch might have managed it, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Be happy if you manage anything. Be happy if you try but fail. There’s always tomorrow, and it’s more important to get through this time with your mental health on an OK’ish keel rather than to come out of it with a weighty trilogy under your belt.
Can you tell us a bit about the initial inspiration and motivation behind The Scoop?
The Scoop tells the story of the rather hapless Casey Jones – a thirty-something frustrated adventurer going nowhere. Her charity job depresses her, her parents confuse her, and she has repeated nightmares about her ex-girlfriend. In a moment of sudden clarity she chucks in her job, contacts her old schoolfriend, Danny, and they plan a pilgrimage of sorts to find some real meaning in their lives. What she didn’t plan for was an extra passenger in the shape of Danny’s estranged 12-year-old son, Ari, who has problems of his own. The three of them are thrown together for an intense rollercoaster ride through some of the world’s most beautiful and dangerous places from Tulse Hill to Tibet, allowing the history and culture they encounter to change the way they see the world, and each other.
The idea for my novel The Scoop came about thirteen years ago when I went travelling myself. I was on the run from some situations in my life which weren’t really going that great – little things like my job, my relationship, and having something to aim for in life. I wrote a blog as I went, which I sent back home to family and friends. Several people commented that I should write a book about it. So I did.
Writing a novel had been something I’d dreamed about for a long time and this seemed the perfect excuse to do it. I suppose you could say that writing this book allowed me to work through some of the questions I had about life and what we’re all here for. I knew that I wanted to include this search for the truth in the novel, and I wanted to do it in a humorous way that people could relate to. I then spent thirteen years trying to get it published. I mean I did other things with my life in the meantime
– a career, a family, all that – but being a published author was like a consuming hobby on the side.
I read that you have lived in other parts of Europe and South East Asia, and spent time living in Ireland, France, and Australia before returning to the UK – how has this influenced your writing?
I spent a year and a half living in France as part of my degree and since then I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to travel to some amazing places with work. Then of course I took time off to travel and live abroad again in my mid-thirties – an experience which I’ve never taken for granted and which I am so grateful for, especially right now. Travelling and particularly living abroad gives you a deeper understanding of what divides people in different countries and cultures, and also
what unites people – how much we share, underneath it all. This is at the core of what I’ve written about in The Scoop.
What challenges did you face (if any) whilst writing this? (and since publication!)
Can I say that all of it was challenging without sounding like a snowflake?! It took me about a year of full-time writing to finish my first draft of The Scoop, then it took thirteen years to get it published. When I was writing my book I thought that if I could just finish it then I’d have made it (because so few people actually finish writing a novel). Then, when I finished it I realised that the next hill to climb was getting it published and that if I could just do that then I’d have made it (because really, so
few finished novels get published). But now that I’m published I realise that it’s a really crowded marketplace and getting your voice heard in amongst all the others is yet another steep hill to climb.
Publishing during a pandemic has obviously added a number of novel challenges too. Right now, due to social distancing measures, we can’t do any in-person events. We had to move the launch of The Scoop online, which tested the skills of even my most tech-savvy friends and family (and myself). I hope that in the not-too-distant future we will be able to go back to doing some good old-fashioned book events, readings and signings.
In the meantime, I’ve had many personal messages from friends and strangers alike who’ve read and loved The Scoop. This has made me so very happy because it means that my words have reached someone, and truly touched them, and at the end of it all, that’s all I ever wanted to achieve.
Besides writing fiction, you’ve also written textbooks, poetry and a musical. That’s quite a contrast! What has been the most challenging writing project you have ever undertaken? How did fiction compare to writing other creative genres?
Hmmm, they’ve all been challenging in different ways. Writing a novel was certainly the longest and hardest slog, but in very many ways the most rewarding as well. You have to craft a whole new world with believable and relatable characters, tell a compelling story and take your readers on a journey that speaks to them. That’s a lot to ask!
A very different challenge was writing a musical script, particularly as I co-wrote it. To be honest, while it was frustrating to have my ideas challenged and re-written by someone else, I actually found it enormously eye-opening in terms of my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It was like having someone edit over your shoulder. But I got to do that with their writing too, and I learned a lot as they were a more experienced writer than me.
What are your favourite books of all time? (So far!)
I have two, very different, favourite books, both of which I read about thirty years ago but which have stayed with me over the years and never been superseded. Firstly, The Bone People by New Zealand author Keri Hulme, published in 1984; and secondly, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values by American writer Robert M. Pirsig, published in 1974. Both books have in common that the authors struggled to find publishers, and both generally divide readers despite being bestsellers. I imagine that as a student I first read them to appear more intellectual than I was. But I genuinely loved them. Hmmm, now that I think about it, both books are also about outsiders struggling with their identities and a sense of belonging – I never thought about that before – but that’s something I tackle in my book too.
What are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, about Shakespeare’s son. It’s hauntingly beautiful and transports you to another place and time, and not necessarily in a manner I expected. I’m crying lots while reading it and I suspect Hamnet has become the outlet for all my Coronanxiety tears. It was also published during the pandemic, in fact it came out just five days after The Scoop was launched, so I suppose I feel some sort of authorial allegiance with O’Farrell (although I’m not in
her league as a writer). I was really pleased to see that Hamnet has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Are you working on any new writing projects at the moment?
Chance would be a fine thing! I am mother to a toddler who wakes at 5am and doesn’t stop all day, and I’m also the primary breadwinner for the family. So many people have asked whether I’m writing a second novel, and the fact is that I would love to be doing that, but until we sell the Hollywood film rights to The Scoop or I win the Lottery, I won’t be able to make writing the full time occupation I would love it to be. The most I’ve managed to write during lockdown is a twenty-five-line poem about a Peregrine falcon!
Cat’s poem ‘Peregrine Nation’ will be published in an anthology ‘Poems for a Pandemic’ raising money for NHS Charities Together.
You can find out more about Cat Walker at: https://catwalkerauthor.com/