Interview: Catherine Wilcox

Catherine Wilcox chats about her experiences as a writer

Catherine Wilcox – also known by her pen-name Catherine Fox – is a Durham alumni and author. She recently visited her alma mater to support her new book, Acts and Omissions; I took this opportunity to interview her in hopes of finding out more about her work as an author.

I believe you were educated here in Durham – would you say that perhaps your experience here had any sort of impact on your work or writing? Do you have many fond memories of your time here?

Many fond memories. I was an undergraduate in Johns 1980–83, reading English. I then did a year of MA research in the theology department on women in 17th C sectarianism. A lot of this found its way into my first novel Angels and Men, (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin 1996 – which is partly about my love affair with the city of Durham. Someone who had never previously been to Durham complained, when he visited, that my books had given him false memory syndrome.

Acts and Omissions, your latest work, is quite revolutionary, as it was blogged in weekly installments during 2013 before being published. What are your thoughts on this process? I Imagine it must have been radically different from you regular work – what is your opinion on using blogs as a medium for literature? The blogosphere in general has a bit of a reputation as being perhaps a ‘lower’ medium of writing – why do you think this is?

I had great fun blogging Acts and Omissions. I’d been trying for about 7 years to write a big important novel about the Church of England and the gay debate, but just couldn’t find the right form to cast the tale in. After a couple of failed attempts, I decided I’d simply ransack the MS that was sitting on my hard drive, and have a go at writing a modern take on the Victorian serialised novel, by writing it in weekly instalments on a blog. This more playful approach freed up the material, and I was surprised by the end how well it worked as novel. The world of publishing is changing so fast that authors need to keep trying new approaches as the old avenues of publication close down. Like all forms of publishing, the world of blogging contains good and bad writing. It certainly proved successful for me, when I was drawing a blank in conventional publishing.

Could you explain for our readers what Act and Omissions is about? How was it suitable for the medium that you chose?

Welcome to the fictional Diocese of Lindchester. Conceived as an

affectionate homage to Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles, Acts and

Omissions takes you, dear reader, on a year-long romp in the company

of bishops, priests and laypeople. Prepare yourself for a bumpy and

hilarious ride from the rarefied heights of the Cathedral Close down to the

coalface of ordinary urban and rural parishes. Acts and Omissions reveals

the Church of England in all its mess and glory. It is a world shot through

with grace, but one where even the best intentioned err and stray. And

occasionally do those things which they ought not to have done . . .’

That’s the blurb from Acts and Omissions, and I think it gives a good flavour of the project. The weekly structure worked very well, as I was able to follow the contours of the Church year, and reflect on what had just happened in the last week. It meant I could weave together the topical and the timeless. I promoted it via Twitter and built a following. In some ways it was crowd sourced, as people offered comments and advice. It became an interactive project, although I remained in control! I did a small amount of editing to turn it into a formal novel.

Before diving into adult fiction, you previously wrote Malpas, a children’s novel, and Wolf Tide, a YA novel. Can you tell me a little about the differences in the process, if any, when it comes to writing books for differently aged audiences? Do you prefer writing for adults?

I’ve published four adult novels, and a range of non fiction books (More info here: Malpas is still languishing in a bottom drawer, I’m afraid. My first love is still adult fiction, but I had a wonderful time creating a fantasy world in Wolf Tide, and plan to write a sequel to that early next year. I’ve just finished blogging Unseen Things Above, (forthcoming, July 2015) which is the follow up to Acts and Omissions. Volume 3,Realms of Glory, starts at Advent 2015, and will run for a year. Broadly speaking, the same rules apply whoever I’m writing for: strong characterisation, gripping plot, compelling dialogue, important themes addressed appropriately—and no skippable bits.

And finally, do you have any words of advice for any aspiring authors out there?

Really satisfying novels come out of a prolonged reflection on life lived. So my advice is read, live, think, daydream. Write, then re-write. Fiction is a craft that we never fully master. That’s why we have to keep on writing novels to try and get closer to what we mean to say. If you manage to make a bit of money out of it, that’s always a help!

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