Monday, January 14, 2008

Masterclass - Catherine O'Flynn

Her first novel, ‘What Was lost’, was long-listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize (it’s also just won the Costa First Novel Prize)

Catherine told us about her previous jobs (which included a brief stint as a postwoman, which is something the press have picked up on for some unknown reason), the most important of which was in a branch of HMV in a shopping centre (Merry Hill) in the West Midlands. While working there, she became interested in the contrast between the shops during the day and during the night, for both customers and staff.

Each night when she got home from work, she would scribble down notes and thoughts about her experiences – this I think was some time in 2003. These notes helped her to structure her story and write up a full synopsis. She then moved to Barcelona for some time with her partner, and being fortunate enough not to have to work she was able to spend a lot of her time honing her story and beginning to write the novel.

Having already written a thorough synopsis and extensive notes about different characters and outcomes, the actual writing part came fairly easy to her. She cockily announced that the writing part of it would be relatively simple, and went for it.

She prioritised what she thought were the easiest and most fun parts before tackling the trickier bits, a method she found to be very helpful since by the time she’d reached those trickier bits, she’d already built up enough writing experience to feel confident enough to tackle them.

The book became stalled with her agent as they’d suggested changes she didn’t want to make. This was resolved by a friend’s recommendation that she change a key relationship between characters in the story, and also slow down what had, up to then, been a very sudden and rushed ending. This she found to be very helpful, and everyone was happy.

Her partner had also been very helpful with her writing, being a patient listener to each day’s writing every evening (helped by the fact that they didn’t have a TV, so had to find other ways to entertain themselves!) Though he seemed to invest a lot of emotional energy in the book himself, disagreeing with certain recommendations friends and publishers had made. He also told her at one point that he thought her idea so good, if she didn’t write it, he would.

She eventually went with the publishers Tindal Street as they struck her as independent and a company who really look after their writers. Unlike some larger publishers, they push their writers and books much harder for industry prizes and awards and expend a lot of energy to promote them creatively.

In her novel, ‘What Was lost’, Catherine found that she preferred writing from the POV of a 10-year-old female character – Kate – she found it the easiest to write of all the voices, most of whom were adults.

Jeff, NAW student, said that he enjoyed the disembodied voices that occasionally dropped in and out of the narrative; though this was something Catherine herself liked a lot, the agent and publishers didn’t, but nevertheless decided to keep them in.

As far as the sources for her inspiration and abilities are concerned, she simply reads a lot – this she thinks is the best font of her talent. Otherwise she only did one actual writing course, some sort of Open Arts college (?) which was a distance learning institution. Her university degree was in Anthropology, and her first job in journalism, perhaps her only other job which had anything to do with writing.

- My thanks to Mike for the write up.


joyfeed said...

The gestation period was longer than you imagine. She worked for HMV in the late '90s.

R1X said...

Crikey! I thought I was taking my time, Joyfeed.