1. When did you first decide that you wanted to write?
As a child every great book I read made me want to be a writer. Certain books were so powerful and took reality to a heightened level. I have always been intrigued by writers’ lives and choices and work patterns. But also strong, transfixing stories and words rubbing against one another.
I remember getting very involved in the binding and illustrations for a book I wrote at twelve – without ever finishing it! Then for a long while I wrote terribly awful over-descriptive poems thinking I was touching the sap of Life. I left Australia when I was young, wrote a novel while working as an au pair in Paris which although it did well in a major competition, I didn’t possess the determination to re-edit and send it around, and soon left Paris for Milan and then Mogadishu.
In my early twenties I was far too busy with my personal life to see much through so I was hugely delighted when my first story was accepted when I was living in Somalia – freshly sacked from my embassy job with my first-born in a basket on the floor. It was called ‘Elton John’s Mother’ and dealt with a bunch of welfare Mums in a caravan park up the New South Wales coast who named their kids after pop stars.
2. What interests you as a writer?
I love to read, to receive books in the post, to spend hours in huge bookshops. I always think I haven’t read enough and there are so many contemporary and foreign and past writers whose work I would like to discover.
Having led a crazy and varied life I don’t usually have a problem with ideas which often spring forth, so presently I am more interested in what can transform a writer with talent into a writer who enjoys success. For ages I lived in Africa and in the early years before the internet writing involved typewriters, carbon paper and massive, soul-eroding waits for intercontinental replies. Now living in Italy, I feel I am ready to join the fray and understand more about how others have made the journey from pyjamas-and-a-laptop-in-bed to glossy covers and sweet-smelling pages. I went to my first writers’ festival last year – the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera – and have been using the internet as a new best mate. So far I have found many contemporary writers to be generous and supportive human beings – I hadn’t realised it would be like this.
3. Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?
To write I need to know that I have empty time ahead. That can mean a week or so for a story, or big slabs of relatively empty weeks for a first draft or novel revision. I work as a translator and also teach English and during the day my house is quiet and empty, so at the moment I am able to organise my time – but it hasn’t always been like this!
I love writing in my room which catches the winter sunlight all day long. Or during the summer away from my family in the cool ex-dairy. I am horribly disconnected when I work – I drink coffee and forget to eat, occasionally wandering down for piano practice or to bring in yesterday’s washing. I don’t think I am much fun to be around.
4. What made you decide to write ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’?
‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ by Catherine McNamara
To published by Indigo Dreams Publishing U.K. June/July 2011 http://thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.com
One stinking hot summer after several years of living in Italy I was drinking vodka with Emily who said ‘Why don’t you write something set in Italy? Something funny?’ At the time I was depressed over a heavy and traumatic fiction novel of mine set in Ghana (now I have distance!) and had published a couple of short stories after getting back on my feet following the return to Europe (as a single Mum with a batch of tri-national kids). It’s true, I needed lightness. But I had never felt the remotest connection to Italy except for a vague ire over the way women are treated here – botox and silicone, cut-off age twenty-eight. But I do like humour, although I wasn’t sure about lightweight romance. Driving back from Treviso I thought of a name, a first sentence, and spent the rest of the summer/autumn/winter writing the novel. Thank you Emily!
5. What are the best things about being a writer?
I still get that hit when I think I have written something flawless. Of course that often turns around and you get the cringes. But reaching the end of a piece, feeling you have found meaningful resolution with moments of grace or even power along the way, it’s one of things that makes me feel I have found an explicit and satisfying use for my brain. And then when one receives praise or encouragement, it’s quite massive.
6. And the worst?
Without a doubt the waiting. The rejection. The fragility this all entails. The illusion that you are doing something useful or marvellous when in truth, you are not. Sometimes I do wish I had found this level of satisfaction in doing something a little easier. Slowly, I am learning how to move from the private to the crueller ‘public’ world of measuring writing.
7. You’ve also written a collection of short stories. What was your inspiration for these?
‘Pelt and Other Stories’ by Catherine McNamara (http://peltandotherstories.blogspot.com)
Though my childhood was settled I left Sydney at twenty-one and moved around quite a lot. From Paris I moved to Milan, learnt two languages, went to Somalia as a young diplomatic wife ill-equipped for warfare, went to Ghana where I ended up living local life to an intense and unexpected degree. It feels as though I have lived several different lives and the stories carry a lot of the spill-over. Things that I have seen or imagined very easily work themselves into new, fresh stories in my head. It always starts with a sentence, then I love imagining a character, an environment, issues and plot resolution. This year I have started to have write my first stories set in Europe – I am fascinated by migration, the overlapping of cultures and also by how nature works upon the psyche of man, particularly in a mountain environment.
8. Tell me about what you’re working on now.
I am very keen to participate in the promotion of ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ which is being published in June/July 2011. I am more than grateful to Ron Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams Publishing U.K. for selecting the book and giving me the chance to have an entire novel with my own name. So far even the most ardent non-womens’ romance readers have been very positive and I am hoping that it might do well with a wider public.
Participating in the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera may have opened some doors with the short story collection and I am waiting on replies, writing more short stories in the meantime. I am trying to formalise my swing between writing stories set in Italy and Ghana, which often hinge upon migrant workers, expats or accidental travellers like myself. I would also like to get back to my depressing, huge African novel which is really a beautiful, trapped love story.
9. Do you have a dream project you’d love to write?
If ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ goes well I would love to write a sequel. I think I would enjoy thrashing out the sequence following the book’s conclusion. It could be hairy but hilarious. There are several characters who I have fallen in love with – Brett the bi-sexual benefactor from Hong Kong, flighty Australian Fiona who cannot be trusted, Estelle the insouciant Latvian waif model, Marilyn’s very punky British teenagers in preppie Milan, and of course Marilyn and her lovers.
And of course every writer’s dream project would be writing a screenplay and selecting a top-notch cast!
I would also like to write a full-on chunky literary novel along the lines of the short story collection. Having a novel published makes one want to grow quickly and make use of all those ideas.
Thanks to interviewer Paola Cecchetto (for press release 2011)