Want to know why I write? Last week I explored those questions while continuing the Monday Blog Tour, which you can find on Anita Mathias’ blog. This week I’m hosting Cathy Le Feuvre. She’s one of “my” authors, for as you’ll read below, I’ve just commissioned her and Debbie Duncan to write a book, Life Lines, for Authentic Media. It’s a fab fictionalized account of two friends doing life together, of which Michele Guinness says, “Embedded in this wry, witty and revealingly frank correspondence is many a buried gem of wisdom on the basic, gritty issues of life that make us laugh and make us cry, and that we survive by sharing.” Look for it this autumn!
And now, over to Cathy.
Thanks to Amy for nominating me for the Monday Blog Tour. It’s been great getting to know Amy these past few months, since we first met in her home in North London over lunch and a very long chat. Amy is the editor for my latest book, which I’m co-authoring with Debbie Duncan…but more of that later!
As with the other Monday blog hoppers before me, I’ve been presented with a series of questions to answer. Just between us, this is a little strange for me. I’ve been a journalist for thirty odd years, off and on, so I’m usually the one asking the questions.
However … here goes!
What I am working on?
Right now? I’m researching and writing a new book for Lion Hudson publishers which is due to be completed by early autumn and is scheduled for publication next spring. It means I’m spending half my time in Victorian England.
It feels really strange seeing those words in print – ‘I’m researching and writing a book’ – because I think ever since I can remember I’ve had stories in my head and have been telling stories – to my teddies, my dollies, school mates in the dorm (I went to boarding school) and then various nieces, nephews, godchildren and anyone else who would listen. Ever since I can remember I’ve yearned to be a ‘writer’, an ‘author’, but secretly I was always a little scared to take that leap of faith. Although I don’t consider myself a natural crowd pleaser, I suppose I was always worried about whether I would cut the mustard. What would people think of my writing, my ‘ambition’? Would people think me arrogant? If I made my ‘dream life’ a reality would it all come crashing down? And then where would I be?
So, I became a journalist! Local newspapers, local radio then news and current affairs reporting and presenting in regional television and a career as a producer in network TV where I worked mostly in ‘religious’ broadcasting. Finally I found myself in PR and working for The Salvation Army UK church and charity organization – The Salvation Army also happens to be my church of choice. I was Head of Media in charge of a press office, reputation management and so much more.
I was writing. Every day. I wrote news stories and reports and TV and radio scripts. I wrote press releases and official business reports. I helped others to write. I learned to write with purpose. And in my ‘spare time’ I still scribbled my stories and poems, and scripts for church plays and presentations, and started and sometimes completed numerous stories, novels and books. I was shortlisted in a national Children’s Short Story competition and began to think “maybe I CAN DO THIS!”
To cut a long story short, finally, five years ago I took a deep breath and stepped out in faith and quit my full-time job. Within months of going freelance, I was commissioned by Lion Hudson publishers to produce a book about The Salvation Army in advance of the Christian movement’s 150th anniversary next year – 2015. I said ‘Yes!” Obviously.
Of course, I still work in PR, journalism, broadcasting and training to pay the bills but the creative writing has developed beyond my wildest dreams even if it doesn’t yet pay much. I’m learning to live on trust. Sometimes it’s touch-and-go at the end of the month, but God has been good. More writing projects/books are coming in and doors have opened for some paid work which keeps me afloat, is extraordinary interesting and has introduced me to new friends and opportunities. There’s a passage from the Bible which has popped up time and again over the past years and I live with the words in my heart – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah Ch 29 v 11 NIV)
In September 2013 my first book was published. William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters (Monarch books).
The second book is on the horizon. This autumn Debbie (Deborah) Duncan and I will publish a book called Life Lines – which is basically an online/email ‘conversation’ between two fictional friends, both Christians, both of a ‘certain age’, one married with family, one single. This started out as a fun project based on conversations Debbie and I had while commuting together into London. We live near each other at the moment so when travelling into work we often shared a vehicle to the station and took the train together into the city. We swapped life stories and laughed so much we decided to write something down in the form of a fictional story of friendship. And, thanks to Authentic Publishers and the magnificent Amy Boucher Pye we have a book which, we hope, will make people laugh but will also provide moments of reflection as we all think about why we do what we do, as Christians, women, and friends. Life Lines has been great fun to write and we’re very excited about its upcoming publication.
As I said at the start of this question, I’m currently researching and writing my next book for Lion. It’s the story of a scandalous and intriguing court case in Victorian England – a court case which highlighted an evil of the times and ultimately helped to change the course of history. It means I’m spending a good deal of my time in Victorian England and the Old Bailey. Fascinating!
Why do I write what I do?
WHY do I write? Because it’s my living and my passion. Simple!
I write every day – either for magazines (articles) or clients (ghost writing/press and media/reports/social media). I have also thoroughly enjoyed writing devotional material – Bible Reading Notes – for Scripture Union’s Closer to God series over the past three years which has also encouraged me to delve more deeply myself into God’s word.
Over the past three years I’ve also learned to build basic websites and I write (sometimes rather intermittently) on my own website and blog and daily on my own social media networks (various Facebook sites, and Twitter @CathyLeFeuvre). I also write articles for various online sites, like Hub Pages, which is good fun and keeps my tight writing skills up to spec.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
The publication of William and Catherine was very special for this first-time author. Experiencing my first book launch last September, seeing my book in bookshops, and featured on online sales sites like Amazon, attending promotional events and actually signing copies and running events/evenings/afternoons where I talk about the Booths and how the book came about is a great honour. Next weekend (Sat May 31st – 10am) I’ll be speaking at the Bloxham Festival of Faith and Literature. What a buzz!
The fact that I’ve been first commissioned to write ‘serious’ historical-based narratives is great for me because it’s well within my skillset as a journalist. I love to research! I’m current loving my digging around into life in the under-belly of Victorian society!
But even with my ‘serious’ work I aim to make it ‘user friendly’ and to incorporate my creative writing skills whenever possible. William and Catherine is a biography of the founders of The Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth. But the word ‘biography’ sometimes puts people off reading, so I wanted to come at it from a different perspective. I leave the very serious, theological stuff to others more learned than myself. As the full title of the book implies, I used the personal letters of William and Catherine Booth to build their story. The letters are held in trust in the British Library and I loved spending time in the library in London pouring over the hand-written notes and letters which they exchanged over nearly 40 years, from their first meeting until Catherine’s death in 1890. What a privilege to read their inner-most thoughts and to experience something of the deep love they shared for God and each other over a lifetime.
Alongside edited extracts from the Booth letters I also included historical narrative – explaining their lives and times, the background to what they are saying in the letters. But, in addition, I included ‘creative’ cameos, little stories in which I attempted to draw the reader into the Booth’s world. Many of these stories included information I’d gleaned through research, except it was presented from either William and Catherine’s or other perspectives. People have been kind enough to say that William and Catherine has helped them to get to know the founders of this great international Christian movement, which today impacts millions of lives across the world, as ‘real’ human beings. That’s what I wanted and I’m aiming for my next Lion book to incorporate similar elements – extracts from contemporaneous documents, historical narrative and explanation and ‘creative stories’ to help transport my readers back to 1885 and Victorian London.
I’m also still writing creative stories although finding time can be a challenge. I have a couple of full length children’s stories which I hope one day will also be out there in the world. Re-writing is a big thing with me and these are being re-written quite a lot at the moment! And, of course, there is Life Lines.
I don’t really have a master plan on what type of books/writing I want to be ‘known’ for but I don’t particularly want to get ‘pigeon-holed’. I know some ‘experts’ say one should become known for one particular ‘genre’ but now I’ve started (almost) full time writing I find the ideas come thick and fast and the opportunities for different kinds of writing just keep opening up. Those stories which have always been inside my head are now being allowed to have lives of their own.
How does my writing process work?
Sometimes I’m rather tied up with working for clients as part of the ‘day job’ but I always try to write something ‘creative’ every day even if it’s just some notes on my latest project or an online piece. I do try to ‘timetable’ my activities, to ensure that all essential work is completed on time. I even have a whiteboard! But ultimately when there’s a deadline looming or the creative juices are flowing I can, like most writers, spend many hours in front of the computer, with the obligatory short breaks. I think my longest stint was 18 hours before I had to lie down for a bit.
I work mostly from home and have my ‘office’ in my little ‘Spare ‘Oom’. It’s not always as tidy as I’d like it to be, especially when I have all my research laid out on the spare bed, so sometimes I set up on the kitchen table, from where I have a good window view to the gardens below. When I have a writing project to complete, I try not to get too distracted by squirrels, birds, social media and emails. I heard recently from an eminent pastor and theologian that one is 20% less efficient when ‘multi-tasking’ and certainly when completing William and Catherine I learned to switch off my email. Thus I avoided being suddenly distracted by an in-coming ‘ping’ on my computer which alerted me to a message and sucked the next hour out of my life when I should have been working. I check emails during ‘breaks’ and, as I learned to do during my fulltime journalism days, I try to prioritise my responses. However, I do sometimes listen online to music and to the radio (my ‘home station’ BBC Jersey is my favoured station of choice, along with BBC Radio 4) especially when I’m researching.
I find being outside helps to clear my thoughts … The rhythm of walking somehow helps me to sort out any writing issues. While stepping out I find I can see more clearly where the structure of my story needs to go or how a character might want to speak to my reader.
When working on a big writing project, I often find myself stopping to chat to God…I guess it’s praying…especially when the words won’t come or I get myself into a fix. When I was a child The Chronicles of Narnia were among my favourite books. You might have picked that up from the ‘Spare ‘Oom’ reference (Mr Tumnus/The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). CS Lewis is one of my favourite writers. Many years ago I became aware of a quote attributed to him – “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature” – and this has lived with me and is part of my motivation. Not all my writing is ‘overtly Christian’ but I very much see my writing and would-be creativity as part of my faith life and I give it to God every day, for him to use.
So that’s me. Now, to continue the blog tour, of course I nominate my fabulous friend and writing partner Debbie Duncan.