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Catherine Richards Interview

Posted on 18 May 2007. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to debut novelist Catherine Richards

Catherine Richards’ first novel Heading South, a comedy written jointly with Luke Bitmead, is being published by Legend Press on 26th May.

The authors met on the BBC Get Writing Forum and challenged each other to write in the perspective of the opposite sex. The result is Heading South -- a light, vibrant comedy written in two hilariously interweaving parts. The story unfolds as the male character, Nick, moves down from Sheffield to where the quirky, fun-loving Cassie lives in the sleepy Cotswolds and the reader is taken on a rollercoaster as ex-girlfriends, posh admirers, pets passing away and friends going into labour all put the skids on their potential romance.

Catherine and Luke never actually met in person as Luke, author of White Summer (published by Legend Press in May 2006), tragically passed away last October, aged just 34.

Tell us something about your background.

I’m co-author of ‘Heading South’ a romantic comedy that I wrote together with Luke Bitmead. I’m currently working on another novel, as yet without a title. It will probably turn out to be more of the same kind of stuff. I like nothing more than to relax on a summer’s day with a nice cuddly romantic comedy, so that’s what I write on the whole.

I’m an English teacher in the real world. I’m sure it has helped my writing develop. There’s nothing like having to teach someone else how to write to make you aware of your own shortcomings. I especially enjoy working with my A Level students on their original writing portfolios but the younger kids can turn out some pretty interesting stuff too.
Generally, because of the hours I work, I have to write in fits and starts. I rarely get time to write much in term time but I do have the advantage of a long summer holiday where I can get stuck into a project.

How did you start writing?

I guess I first really got into writing through my other favourite pastime: the theatre. When I was younger I really wanted to be an actor. I spent a lot of my spare time as a teenager doing youth theatre stuff and found that I enjoyed writing material just as much as I enjoyed performing.

I didn’t really get into story writing until a few years ago. I found some short stories and stuff that I’d scribbled down when I was meant to be writing essays at Uni. I started to take some of the characters from them and put them in different situations. Eventually they took on lives of their own and had my first (very self indulgent and not very well crafted) novel on my hands. I then started posting some bits of it on some internet writing forums. Although most people were kind about it, it soon became apparent I had a lot to learn if I was ever to write stuff of publishable quality.
I tried to track down people online who would be brutally honest in their responses to my writing. One of those people turned out to be Luke Bitmead. We spent a bit of time giving feedback each other’s writing and eventually decided to write something together: mainly as a way of improving our writing in the first instance. Four weeks later ‘Heading South’ was complete.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Obviously Luke has been a massive influence on my writing. I learnt so much from him and I really miss having him around to bounce ideas off.
Favourite writers…? Hmmm…where to start. I guess we have to start with Emily Bronte and Jane Austen as the original queens of Chick Lit. The bit in ‘Wuthering Heights’ where Cathy pours her heart out to Nelly about her love for Heathcliff made me cry when I was 17 and still brings a lump to the throat now. And I still want to push Lizzy Bennett out of the way and marry Mr Darcy as soon as Pemberly comes in to view.
I quite like reading the poetry of people like Dylan Thomas and T.S. Elliot (and probably Simon Armitage too.) I love the way they can take words and stretch and bend the meaning. Sometimes I find a word I like and try and build a section of prose around it in the same kind of way. I don’t think there’s any chance of me being the next laureate, however.
On a more down to earth practical level, you will see my bookshelves at home stacked with stuff by Lisa Jewell, Jenny Colgan and the like. I find I enjoy the down to earth ‘normalness’ of their characters. I get slightly irritated by characters in books who seem to have lots of money and glamorous lives and still find something to moan about.
I spend a lot of my working life analysing poems and novels and marking essays on them. In my free time it’s nice to read something that doesn’t work your brain too hard. Yes, I like my chick lit and I’m not afraid to admit it.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

I think I must be living proof of the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ On hearing of Luke’s death via the Legend Press website, I got in contact with Tom Chalmers to ask that he pass my condolences on to Luke’s family. I also wanted to let them know that I had some odd bits of writing of Luke and I had been working on together in case they wanted me to pass them on.
Tom then got back to me to say that Luke had previously given him a copy of ‘Heading South’ and that he’d like to talk about publishing it.
I think I must be one of a very small minority of author’s that has got a publishing deal without making a single submission. I count myself as very lucky indeed.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Having lots of ideas and not enough time to get them written down.

And the best?

I find writing quite therapeutic. You can unload your brain of all the stresses and anxieties it carries around and give them to one of your characters to deal with instead. Also, unlike real life, you can play god and control how it all ends dishing out big servings of karma along the way. (Do I have megalomaniac tendencies? … very possibly.)

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

To be honest, not that many people have read my writing yet. Certainly not people that I’ve sat down and discussed it with yet. I’ve just read a review in ‘Roundtable Review’ that says some really nice things about the book so that’s quite encouraging.
I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what people think of ‘Heading South’. I’m certain there’s still plenty I have to learn about my writing.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

RT104 at 08:18 on 19 May 2007  Report this post
What a lovely interview, Catherine! It is especially touching to see how much you were influenced by Luke.

Your A level students must be so excited to have their English teacher going into print. And what a great role model for them!

Can't wait to read the novel. Best of luck with it, and with future books.


Account Closed at 09:50 on 20 May 2007  Report this post
Great interview.

Good luck with the book.


MariaM at 16:41 on 22 May 2007  Report this post
Great interview - and I see your book is reviewed in this week's Closer(as mine was) - that's excellent as it has a really big circulation and I'm sure it'll give your sales a nice boost!

all best


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