Interviewing and getting to know Catherine McNamara was a great reminder that while we all live individual and very different lives, as writers – and some of us as mothers or wives or partners – have overlapping dreams and experiences. I think the internet always makes the world feel smaller, but what I like best, is when the internet allows those using it to feel closer and more connected. Catherine is an Australian author and mother who lives in Italy. Her book is available internationally and here she is in our little corner of the blogosphere — saying things that resonate.
Closer and more connected, indeed.
Please welcome Catherine McNamara to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Catherine McNamara Says That When Women’s Fiction Strikes a Chord She Knows It’s Done Right
ASN: Welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers, Catherine. I feel so international interviewing you, an Australian author in Italy!! So I must ask — is The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living In Italy your story-turned-fiction? I mean, you ARE in Italy!
CM:Thanks very much Amy for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here. I guess this is a question that will be asked many times over – is this my own story, given I am a divorced lady living in Italy, or is there something else going on here?
I think I should rewind and tell you about how this novel came about. I came to live in north-eastern Italy with my four kids after nine years in Ghana. I arrived husbandless and rather traumatised, so the Italian countryside was the ideal place for seeking balance and serenity for all, after a pretty rough ride. I moved into the rundown house I had bought with my first husband, an Italian economist, in the years that we were travelling back and forth to Africa, and in many ways this is the place I feel as my home.
I started publishing short stories when my first child was a baby in a basket on the floor in Mogadishu. That child is now twenty-two. Over that period I have written a couple of unsuccessful novels and published many short stories, as well as producing three other children. Just prior to beginning ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ I completed a long, literary novel set in Ghana which still needed a lot of untangling. Then one summer I was complaining about this to an English friend who said ‘Why don’t you write something about Italy?’ I resisted the idea at first, but as I drove home from her place the ideas began to kick in. By the time I reached my house I had a title and a first sentence and I was bursting with enthusiasm.
I wrote my way through the rest of the summer in our chicken shed, inventing a character that is as far from myself as could be – a busty half-Hungarian English divorcée drawn to Italy on the whiff of a dream. I greatly enjoyed forgetting about Africa (where many of my stories are based) and writing about sex, romance and the shifting priorities of the forty-year-old woman, set in this crazy country. I spent many hours laughing to myself and had a hilarious time.
ASN: Can you share with us a little about your journey to publication? I know that Indigo Dreams Publishing Co. is a small press, so what led to working with them? What has the experience been like?
CM: After I completed the novel I showed it to a London agent who contacted me years back about a story I had in a Virago anthology, and she generously gave me some pointers. However she said the women’s fiction field was tough and she didn’t want to take it on (she said there was too much sex and she didn’t know how to market it!).
I spent the next year or so revising, toning it down, sending it to a variety of friends to read, until I thought it was ready to send to a half dozen UK agents. No one took the bait, though I learnt a lot about presentation and approaching agents. I don’t think I tried many publishing companies at that point as I didn’t want the manuscript to land in the slush pile and never see the light of day. But despite the rejections I remained convinced I had a good product for a neglected market – the thinking forty-plus-year-old female.
In 2010 I found a series of interviews with small press directors on a UK writers’ site and liked the sound of Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing. Their submission procedure was clear and swift and they immediately asked for a full manuscript – a couple of weeks later I was signing a publishing contract and offering drinks at my local bar!
Working with IDP has been marvellous! I feel well-loved and cared for, Ronnie and Dawn are very present and enthusiastic. Not having worked with a major publishing house before I can’t make comparisons, but I’ve found IDP to be extremely professional and yet very human. You can feel Ronnie’s passion for your project! I feel very lucky to have been taken on board.
ASN: Your book is available for pre-order now — tell us what it’s like to know your book is for sale around the world!
CM: I am so thrilled that I am almost too stunned to react. This has been my dream for such a long time I feel a surge of relief. I know friends and blog followers have already ordered copies, plus I have at least one literary festival ahead this year, so I am also slightly jittery and do hope that readers enjoy the book. I am also terrified there may be errors hidden away in the text, despite working for months with an editor, but I am very proud of the finished product.
Working with an independent press means I will be doing much of the promotion myself, and I am looking forward to hearing readers’ reactions and trying to raise the book’s profile internationally. I’ve worked in marketing and advertising in the past and can think of nothing more fantastic than trying to sell a book I have written!
ASN: Can you share with us what you’re working on now?
CM: I am pleased to say that Indigo Dreams Publishing have just accepted a second book of mine, a collection of short stories called ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, which was a semi-finalist in last year’s Hudson Prize. IDP like to support their writers although I wasn’t sure they would take up a collection of short stories, given that stories are almost impossible to sell, especially in the current economic climate. I love short stories, and I am excited to think that 2012 will be full of revising and editing another book I really believe in.
ASN: What is your definition of Women’s Fiction?
CM: For me Women’s Fiction differs from fiction in general in the way it strikes a familiar chord, a resonance that is so close to the bone it slips into your being and bears you along with its tone and rhythm. I used to think that fiction should aim to be universal, but growing older, living the life of a woman and mother, has made me think that our needs are served differently, and there is no weakness or shortcoming in admitting this. When I want female astuteness I will choose Women’s Fiction – this doesn’t necessarily mean chick lit, it means the refined good sense and hardy wit of someone like Grace Paley whom I adore, or Maggie Gee or Robin Black. Too often, male writers dominate our bestseller and well-read lists, our review columns and publishing companies, while it has been shown that women read more and perhaps share their views more keenly through book clubs and blogs. It is important to be aware of this imbalance.
ASN: What is your best advice to aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
CM: To an aspiring author of women’s fiction I would say what I have heard and read most frequently, which I also find to be true. First, write what you believe and know, and read as widely as you are able. Find the writing pattern that suits you best. Second, treat your submissions as you would a job – be efficient, polite, grateful; avoid depression, edit seriously, eat sensibly and do some sport. (I know that sounds crazy, but it helps. A good night’s sleep makes me a better, more focused writer.) Lastly, live each moment with grace, don’t despair, listen and observe ceaselessly and, when the time comes to weave a story, unleash your words with abandon and a tidy heart. Good luck!
Thanks so much Amy!
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She is the author of ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ (to be released in April 2012 by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK) and wrote the children’s book ‘Nii Kwei’s Day’. Her story collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ will be published in 2013. After many years in West Africa Catherine now lives in northern Italy where she complains about the government, translates for a WWI Eco-museum and skis fanatically. She has great collections of African sculpture and Italian heels.