Horla: Thanks for agreeing to do this Q and A with us Catherine. May we begin by asking you to tell us something of yourself – where you’re from (originally), your career and life outside writing, and where you live now?
Hi Matthew! Thank you so much for the invite.
I was born and bred in the South Wales Valleys, and went on to teach in Merthyr Tydfil for twenty-eight years. However, my husband and I longed to escape to a more rural area, preferably close to the sea, so three years ago we moved to Ceredigion, West Wales. We now live in a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse, fifteen minutes from the coast.
When I’m not writing I sew in my ‘bee hive’ (summer house), walk the coast-path, or seek out old graveyards, abandoned cottages and ancient monuments. Those are the kind of places that have their own stories to tell, and those are the kind of places that inspire me to tell mine.
Horla: So how did you get into writing? Was it always an ambition?
I’ve always been an avid reader and love stories in both spoken and written form. My late mother encouraged me from a young age through her own love of stories. As a child, my favourite presents were books. For me, Christmas smelt of books, not mulled wine or mince pies.
I wrote my first novel whilst teaching: a middle grade fantasy called The Gatekeeper’s Apprentice. Then, when my mother died, I wrote a dark family saga called Hope Cottage in her memory which explores grief and triumph over adversity.
Only after finishing full-time work (I won’t call it retirement because I view it more as a change in career) did I really find the time to dedicate to writing. Within the first year of freedom, I wrote and published a collection of short stories (Door and other twisted tales) and completed the first draft of a novel (The Wolf and the Favour) which I’ve yet to publish.
In 2020, I won the Aberystwyth University Imagining Utopia creative writing competition for my story, The Queen’s Attendant, which was judged by Michael Caines, assistant editor of The Times Literary Supplement.
Since then, I’ve written and published my collection of Welsh tales (Mists and Megaliths) and have two novellas, as well as several other short stories, which will soon be published.
Horla: Where does your interest in horror fiction, in particular, come from? Any influences (books, cinema, TV) you’d care to mention?
I explain more about my take on the horror genre below, so for now, I’ll just say that I’ve always been in touch with my dark side. Even as a young child I was keenly aware of illness, grief, death, and the powerful consequences such traumas have on us as humans. A bit of a Wednesday Addams, I suppose.
My favourite fairy tales and nursery rhymes were dark, and my mother had a special way of telling them with just the right amount of terror in her voice and fear in her eyes. Even then, I loved visiting graveyards, ancient castles, dungeons and caves. I remember coming home from a jaunt at the local cemetery and informing my mother that I’d chosen the exact tombstone I wanted for her. In her early thirties, and a bit of a hypochondriac, she wasn’t best pleased.
During my teens, the music I listened to was dark and dangerous, loud and anarchic. I read James Herbert, Graham Masterton, Stephen King, as well as the classics like Poe, Mary Shelley, and novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights which some people may not class as horror, but…don’t get me started on the whole genre thing!
As far as writing goes, exploring the dark side provides an ideal opportunity for the monsters in the closet to be given free rein, those bits of our psyche that might otherwise internalize and destroy us.
My own writing is influenced by so many things, and so many authors. For example, Kathe Koja’s short story, Road Trip, from her collection, Velocities (left), inspired my first attempt at writing a story in second person point of view. It’s called Lure and features in the collection, Mists and Megaliths as well as the anthology, The One That Got Away. from Kandisha Press.
Horla: When it comes to short stories, do you have a favourite in the horror genre? If there is such a story, please tell us what makes it special in your view.
The story by Kathe Koja that I mentioned above is definitely one of my favourites. It’s the story of a father dealing with his daughter’s death following a car accident in which he was the driver. The description of the accident itself is bone-chilling, though short and succinct. It goes to prove how much can be said with so few words.
An indie author who writes in a similar style to Koja is Michael Sellars. His collection, Heartfelt Horrors (left), is in a similar vein and does what it says on the cover: delivers an emotional punch but with the absence of sentimentality which I truly admire. Highly recommended.
Horla: ‘Horror fiction’ is, of course a very broad-brush term. How would you describe the kind of fiction that you write?
So many potential readers are put off when they see the term ‘horror writer,’ but like you say, the term covers such a wide range. I don’t actually think of myself as a horror writer, at least not in the obvious sense. I see myself as a dark fiction writer, one who writes what might be classed as quiet horror, but if you’re looking for no holds barred gore you won’t find it in my work. Instead, my fiction leans toward the psychological, is interwoven with mythology and legend, is sometimes speculative, often poetic. Always told from the heart.
Horla: We’ve noticed that your stories can sometimes take a comic turn. Can you shed some light on why your work sometimes walks that way? (We’re thinking of the likes of your story ‘Two’s Company, Three’s a Shroud’ in your new collection Mists and Megaliths, left.)
In my humble opinion, dark humour helps us through the bleakest of times. I find that many Welsh people are able to spin an amusing yarn out of bad fortune. I naturally err towards anecdotes that turn potential disaster or tragedy into comedy and think this is a common trait among Welsh folk.
A year or so ago I read a newspaper article which explained that, due to lack of space, Merthyr Tydfil Council were considering the reclamation of old graves. There was a condition attached: the reclaimed graves had to be at least a hundred-years-old.
(Continue next column)