Interview with a local author: Cath Barton.
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
Photo by Toril Brancher
I have known Cath Barton for several years now, we first met at the writers’ drop-in she organises with her husband, Oliver. We, as a group, meet monthly to listen to each other’s work and discuss the way of the world and how it affects writing and how our writing can affect the world. We were all delighted when we heard the news that her novella, ‘The Plankton Collector’ was not just being published, but was also a prize-winning tale.
Due to the current circumstances that have gripped the world, sadly our interview with Cath had to be conducted by email. Not the preferred medium because it lacks the more intimate nature that interviewing can imbue. But needs must.
Interview with Cath Barton, August 2020:
ASP: When did you start writing in earnest? When did you feel ready to consider what you were doing was ‘professional’ and start submitting your work to a wider audience?
CB: I’ve always written, but for years it was mostly for my work. And not creative. And, after a couple of embarrassingly bad stories when I was a student, I’d decided that although I knew I could put words together well, I didn’t know what to write about. So, I didn’t attempt to write fiction for most of my life until about ten years ago. I’d done a bit of travelling, thought I’d like to write about that and joined a writing group, here in Abergavenny. At the same time, I began to explore online, found opportunities to submit, started putting some small stories out there and won one. £5, I think I won. So, did that make me a professional? No, of course not, but it was such a boost to my confidence. So, I carried on, mostly very short fiction. Then I had a piece accepted for publication in a print magazine – the story’s called Baby, it’s on my website (www.cathbarton.com). I’m still really proud of that piece.
The thing that gave me the biggest boost was winning a New Welsh Writing Award in 2017 for my novella, 'The Plankton Collector'. That was a great endorsement.
ASP: How long did it take before you got your first acceptance?
CB: It wasn’t long after I started putting stories out there. I’m not sure how long I would have carried on if I’d got rejection after rejection for months.
ASP: During this time, and at subsequent times, have you ever felt disheartened by rejections? Do you have any advice for other writers on how to deal with rejection?
CB: Yes, of course. Show me the writer who hasn’t. We literally lay ourselves on a page, and someone says no thank you. Sometimes without the thank you. Don’t tell me it isn’t personal, of course it is. But you have to leave it behind. As a writer you have to grow a thick skin. Rejection will happen. You have to carry on.
ASP: In 2018 your novella 'The Plankton Collector' was published. What prompted you to write it?
CB: Initially, a kind of dare, from someone in the Abergavenny Writers’ Drop-in. ‘Who’s going to write a novella this year?’ he said. It was the beginning of 2016. I saw my hand going up – it wasn’t a conscious decision, but I’m always up for a challenge. The idea for my Everyman character, the eponymous Plankton Collector, came from a little clip I saw on TV about the Victorians collecting plankton, or rather the microscopic shells they leave when they die, which become part of the sand on our beaches. Where the story of family he visits came from is more obscure – bits and pieces from my childhood, aspects of my mother, yes, but it’s not the story of my family. It’s totally a work of fiction.
ASP: Do you identify with any/all the characters?
CB: No. Or rather, only in the sense that when you write a piece of any length, you’re living with your characters for a period of time, they come from you and so must contain some part of you, a part that you may or may not be conscious of.
ASP: How do you go about working a story? For instance, do you write everything consecutively, sentence after sentence, or do you have individual scenes and then try and link them together? Or, indeed, any other way of working?
CB: The Plankton Collector I wrote in that consecutive, sentence after sentence, scene after scene way. It was a relatively straightforward process. Same with many of my shorter works. But with my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, the process was more complex. It grew from a (failed) novella-in-flash of about 7,000 words, and in the process a lot of scenes were shifted around. There was quite a lot of editorial input into this one too.
ASP: Do you ever read your work out loud? If so, do you find this helps with revisions, tightening the prose etc?
CB: Yes, and yes. Reading aloud really shows you any rhythmic trouble-spots. As well as being the best way to pick up those perky typos which evade every other proofread!
ASP: When you had your final draft, for the publishers, were you completely satisfied, or were there still areas, even now, that you think could be different?
CB: The story is what it is. It’s been born and is out in the world, where it has to make its own way. It’s too late for me to change The Plankton Collector now, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. It was a product of the stage I was at – in my writing and in my life – when I wrote it.
ASP: Are you working on a new novella or something longer? Are you happiest writing novellas or do you have a hankering to write an epic? (There are many who think that a story runs for as many words as is required to tell the story). Do you set out with a story to cram it into a specified pigeon hole, e.g. novella, novel etc? Or do you let it run its course, and it is what it is?
CB: I’ve got several things on the go. After a miserable period during the first part of lockdown when I felt my brain was frozen and all I could write was the odd bit of stream-of-consciousness, I’m now in a productive phase. I’m working on novella number three, and also producing short stories of different lengths and the odd bit of flash fiction. Novellas seem to suit me, though I do have something on the back-burner which may become a novel. Not an epic though! I do tend to agree that each story has its length. I also think that stories choose us rather than the other way round.
ASP: Have you found that writing short works – short stories and flash – has improved your skills for writing longer works?
CB: Practising any kind of writing will make you better at it. Though longer works have their own challenges in terms of structure, and writing shorter work certainly does not prepare you for these.
ASP: And finally, your second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, is due to be published in November 2020 by Louise Walters Books. Can you give us a brief synopsis for everyone and hopefully ASP can interview you again in November to get a more in-depth overview of your new work?
CB: I’ll tell you this. In the Sweep of the Bay is the story of a long marriage, with all the ups and downs that such a relationship has. It’s set in Morecambe, and interwoven into the story are aspects of the town and events from the history of the second half of the twentieth century. In the meantime, people can buy pre-publication copies from the publisher – www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk.
I’ll be happy to talk about the book at greater length another time, thank you!
ASP: Thank you.
‘The Plankton Collector’ is published by New Welsh Rarebyte, 2018.
A family already struggling is flung headlong apart from each other in grief....
In this atmospheric novella, the mysterious Plankton Collector visits members of a family torn apart by grief and regret. He comes in different guises. For ten-year old Mary, he is Mr Smith who takes her on a train journey to the seaside. Her mother, Rose, meets him as Stephen, by her son’s graveside. Rose’s youngest, Bunny, encounters him as the gardener. For husband and father David, meanwhile, the meeting is with a love from his youth. And long-lost Uncle Barnaby takes the children for a week’s holiday during which their parents begin a reconciliation.
A wound will heal, and knit them back together....
All visitors are manifestations of the Plankton Collector who teaches those he encounters the difference between the discarded weight of unhappy memories and the lightness borne by happiness recalled.
It is also available on Kindle, in paperback and ebook editions.
Cath also has a website, if you would care to look at her back catalogue and find out a little more about her.