I met Cath Barton in person long before I met her through her fiction (we’re both members of the same book club). Last year I read her most recently published work: In The Sweep of The Bay. It’s a novella which tenderly explores a long marriage and a relationship where love has faded. She broke off from writing her first novel to answer my questions.
My Earliest Reading Memory
As a child growing up in the 1950s, my staple book diet was Enid Blyton – I particularly loved The Faraway Tree. I also loved the Frank Richards Billy Bunter books: I used to go to the local library every Saturday and take out 6 books, and I went through the Bunter cannon and others of that ilk, such as the Jennings and Darbishire books written by Anthony Buckeridge. They made me laugh, and I don’t think they’ve done me any harm!
The Author Who Changed My Mind
Coming across Ian McEwan’s first novel The Cement Garden (1978) was a revelation to me. It must have been just a few years after it was published. In those days library books were still in plain covers – no back-cover blurbs to entice. Something about the title must have made me pick it off the shelf, read a page and take a punt on it; I certainly knew nothing of McEwan and indeed he was not famous at that time.
I can recall now the suffocating feeling evoked by the book, a story of death and sexual tension. I went on to consume McEwan’s collections of short stories and subsequent novels. I think it was he, in books such as The Comfort of Strangers (1981), The Innocent (1990) and Atonement (2001) who brought home to me the power of the visceral in writing, in both the physical and the emotional sense. Sadly, I have been disappointed by his more recent books, in which I think he has allowed his intellect to dominate the writing, which interests me much less.
The Book I Keep Returning To
I don’t re-read much – there are so many new books waiting for me – but one of the ones I keep promising myself to go back to is Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace in the Hole (2002). She’s better known for The Shipping News (1993), but this one is so vivid and funny. It made Texas come alive for me, something I would never have expected.
The Last Book I Bought
East West Street (2016) by Philippe Sands, in which the author investigates his family history in Ukraine and beyond. I am woefully ignorant about Ukraine. I’m joining in with a readalong of the book on Trip Fiction. I don’t expect it to be an easy ride, but I do think that at this time it’s one I need to take.
Most recommended book
Ducks, Newburyport (2019) by Lucy Ellmann. I know that most people throw up their hands in horror at the thought of a 1,000 page book that is mostly written in a single sentence, and have all sorts of judgements about what it will be like. I challenge people to give it a go, as I challenge myself to read books which at first do not appeal to me. I found this remarkably easy to read, and very enjoyable!
You won’t find me reading …
Any more books by Dan Brown. I felt so conned by The Da Vinci Code (2003) because it really is a page-turner, but the writing is, in my opinion, dire.
I would love to have a drink/dinner with …
Goodness, who to choose? There are some marvellous writers who were/are awful people, so none of them… Part of me would like to have met Angela Carter – I love magical realism and she created wonderful worlds, especially in her final book, Wise Children (1991). Emma Rice’s eponymous theatre company made a wonderful adaptation of it for the stage. But I think I would also have found Angela Carter a bit intimidating. So I’ll choose someone completely different – J B Priestley. I’d really like to talk to him about the notion of time, which he explored so well in his plays, of which An Inspector Calls (1945) is the most famous.
My favourite writing place
My husband constructed a garden room which is a sanctuary for reading and writing. No internet access. No clutter. The perfect creative space.the writing of my second novel The Icarus Ascent about the tragic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 as related by the dead climbers from beyond the grave.
I wish I’d written …
I don’t wish I’d written anything by anyone else, just more myself, that I’d started sooner. But we do what we can, when we can.
Cath Barton: The Lowdown
Cath Barton had her first book published relatively late in life. She wrote it after a friend in a writing group said, unexpectedly, at the beginning of 2015 – ‘Who’s going to write a novella this year?’ and she saw her hand going up and thought she’d better do it.
The Plankton Collector went on to win the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017 and was published by New Welsh Review the following year.
Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, was published by Louise Walters Books in 2020 and she has a third, Between the Virgin and the Sea, forthcoming from Leamington Books in their new Novella Express series.
Having said for years she would never write a novel, Cath is now working on one, set in the circus; it’s inspired by the life of her Auntie Phyllis, who was a circus artiste, but goes into strange terrain, where the clowns have their own language and mysterious forces are at work.