Today in the Library we have Catherine Meyrick, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Catherine, please introduce yourself:
Hi Pam, thank you for inviting me.
I am an Australian writer with a love of history. I grew up on the outskirts of Ballarat, a large regional city about 70 miles from Melbourne, one of the first places where gold was discovered in the early 1850s. In many ways, history is a constant presence in Ballarat from the fine 19th century buildings and the wide streets (the main street is wide enough to turn a bullock team) to the Eureka Stockade, an armed rebellion by gold miners objecting to the cost of a miner’s licence, seen basically as taxation without representation. It ultimately resulted in the Victorian Electoral Act 1856 which mandated adult male suffrage.
I moved to Melbourne when I was seventeen to study as a nurse and have lived here ever since. Nursing wasn’t really my calling so I dropped out and went to university where I took a double major in History. I then joined the Public Service and while working full-time completed a MA in History and later Librarianship qualifications. Until recently I was a customer service librarian at my local library – the person you come to when you want your questions answered, such as where to find that book you borrowed two years ago but can’t remember the name of (an easy one to answer). I am also an obsessive genealogist and have managed to identify previously unknown family members and clear up mysteries using both traditional document-based methods and DNA.
I enjoyed ‘composition’ when I was at school and making up stories to scare my sister but usually ended up scaring myself more. Through my twenties, I wrote bits and pieces, mainly poetry and short stories that ended up in the bin whenever I moved house. I started writing in earnest when my first child was born (she is now 30) and once the children were at secondary school, I started taking writing courses. About ten years ago I climbed on the rollercoaster of agents and publishers and submissions. I ended up with an agent and a tentative offer of epublishing but, in the end, thought I could do better by myself so I independently published my first novel in as both an ebook and paperback in 2018.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
I write historical fiction with romantic elements mainly because I love history, think relationships are an important element of human life and prefer stories with a satisfactory ending.
I come from a family where history was important. My father read a lot of historical fiction and my mother biographies of historical figures. Mum would often read out interesting or amusing snippets from the books she was reading. She was also a meticulous family researcher and her stories about her forbears made these long dead people real, not just names attached to dates and locations. When we stayed with our grandparents, as they had no television, evenings were spent in front of the fire listening to the adults talking and telling stories. My grandfather was a great storyteller and he often told tales about his childhood and his family in a way that brought the past to life. When I started on my first novel, I never considered writing about the present. I feel that, perhaps, I understand the past better than the present.
The first historical novel I clearly remember reading was The Flight of the Heron by DK Broster, a thirteenth birthday present from my father. The books that I remember clearly from my teens are all historical – These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, A Spy of Napoleon by Baroness Orczy, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (read at fourteen over three nights in the middle of a school week). The only other book that stands out is The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer – my mother went halves in the cost but never took her turn reading. I still have these books which might indicate that I am a bit of a book hoarder.
I found that I was usually more interested in the subplots involving fictional characters than the reimagined lives of the big names in the novels I read. My novels so far have been about fictional Elizabethan women of the middling sort set against the upheavals of the times. I believe that the people of the past, while they held some attitudes that we now find objectionable, were in many ways like we are today with similar hopes and longings, and a desire to have some say in their own lives. For most ordinary women relationships were important, few occupations were open to them with marriage and household management the usual life path. The choice of a spouse, a matter over which most did not have a complete say, was of critical importance. It could mean the difference between a contented life or one of misery and discord. For this reason, the path to and through marriage plays an important role in my stories – the ‘romantic’ element set in what I hope is a reasonably authentic background.
Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I have read for pleasure nearly every day since my teens, and before that our father read to us every night. It is a sure sign that a book is not working for me if I decide sleep is a better option than reading. I will read nearly anything provided the story is engrossingly told, although I do tend to read mainly historical fiction. Looking at what I have read this year, most of it has been historical fiction except for a couple of murder mysteries, a verse novel, a memoir and my lockdown comfort reading of Tove Jansson’s Moomins series. These days I am more likely to read biographies of historical figures, particularly those who are well known, than fictional retellings of their lives. Gareth Russell’s biography of Catherine Howard, Young and Damned and Fair, is better and more comprehensive than any novel I have read about Catherine. I think this is partly because biographical fiction must be selective and take a position and I end up having internal ‘discussions’ with the author about why they have a different interpretation from mine and that does tend to pull me out of the story – not a good thing with fiction and definitely not the author’s fault. Pausing and thinking about the topic sits more easily with reading non-fiction. While not discounting the brilliance of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and Dairmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell: A Life, my most enjoyable read this year has been A Murder by Any Name by Suzanne M Wolfe, a murder mystery set in and around the court of Elizabeth I – suspenseful, humorous and compassionate with a delightful fictional main character and a massive Irish wolfhound called Hector!
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
All of it!
My writing goes through many, many drafts. Each draft has its own pains and difficulties. I begin with a rough plan – a beginning, ideas for some middle scenes, the ending. I write the first draft longhand then reread and scribble notes all over it. I type all that up, struggling occasionally to read my handwriting and, sometimes, being lazy, leave scenes in note form rather than fleshing them out. What I end up with is really a comprehensive plan of the novel as so many aspects of it still require development. This is where the real work begins and I think, for me, this is the most difficult stage. I have to confront the purpose of every scene and the actions of the characters, incorporate the ideas from my notes and bring in all the senses. And the only way to do this is to sit down and force myself to plod on even if it feels like I am writing rubbish. But at the end of each day, I usually have at least a few decently written paragraphs finished. It is here that I find the magic starts to happen – unplanned but important characters spring to life fully formed, insights into characters’ behaviour and motivation become clear, extra unplanned but necessary scenes take form. These usually appear not when I am at my desk, but out walking alone, taking a shower, gardening or even scrubbing the front step.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
When I started out, I had to fit my writing around work and family responsibilities so I generally wrote at the end of the day, once everyone else had settled in for the night. I still find that I can work quite well late at night but I am most productive if I can get up early, before anyone else is around except the cat. I concentrate better moving straight from sleeping to writing. If I can put in three to four solid hours before even thinking about the day’s problems, I feel I have done well. That leave the afternoons for the messy and confusing social media and business tasks as well as my other job of domestic manager.
You have been chosen as a member of the crew on the first one-way flight to Mars – you are allowed to bring 5 books with you. What would they be?
I suppose as this is a flight to Mars, weight is important so I can’t include the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett and argue that they are a single item – it is five books but really only one long story. So my five would be
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Scarlett O’Hara. Need I say more?
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman: The story of Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John, who married Llewelyn, Prince of Gwenydd (north Wales) in 1205.
Wintercombe by Pamela Belle: Silence St Barbe, the young wife of an older Parliamentary officer, has to deal with danger and her own personal conflicts when Royalist soldiers occupy her house during the English Civil War.
Harp in the South by Ruth Park: The story of a struggling working-class family in Sydney just after World War 2. This is a much-loved Australian classic. I have a copy which includes the sequel, Poor Man’s Orange, so I am counting this as a single book.
The Once and Future King by TH White: An enthralling retelling of the Arthurian legend told with both wit and warmth.
Please tell us about your latest published work.
The Bridled Tongue follows the life of Alyce Bradley as she adjusts to an arranged marriage and faces the long-buried resentments her marriage stirs up.
‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’
Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was–unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft.
Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than mutual courtesy and respect.
As the King of Spain launches his great armada and England braces for invasion, Alyce must confront closer dangers from both her own and Thomas’s past, threats that could not only destroy her hopes of love and happiness but her life. And Thomas is powerless to help.
If you would like to know more about Catherine and her work please see her social media links below: