Cath Barton has not only released her first book, The Plankton Collector, but she will be joining Kathy Fish and I in Casperia, Italy, in May! Cath and I chat about novellas, flash fiction, and the beauty of a good writing challenge.
Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?
Cath Barton: I am actually lucky – I retired from the day job some years back so my time is my own. My challenge is to discipline myself! Sometimes I get up very early to write, though the pressure of a deadline can have me writing at all hours. My husband (who is also a writer, and also coming on retreat next May) built a wonderful room at the bottom of our garden – when I really need to focus on a story I’m writing I work down there on a laptop with no internet access.
Nancy: You are no stranger to flash fiction. How have you seen it evolve since you first started writing it?
Cath: Gosh, there is so much flash fiction being written now, and so much that is so good. And yet you’ll still hear people – writers even – asking – What’s flash fiction? Of course it covers so much, but one thing I’ve learnt is that if every word counts in a short story, every word that’s understood counts in a flash. I really got that from your Sculpting Flash Fiction course, Nancy.
Nancy: Aw, thanks for saying so, Cath. It was such a pleasure to work with you! And congratulations! You have a novella just out, ‘The Plankton Collector’. Tell us a little about the impetus for the book.
Cath: Thank you! At the beginning of 2015 a fellow member of a local writing group came out with a challenge for the group – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I found myself putting my hand up, even though I hadn’t thought about such a thing before that moment. I do like a challenge! So I did it.
Nancy: Wow, I love that! The Plankton Collector is your first book – so exciting! What advice would you have for another writer working on their first book?
Cath: It is exciting! And I’m so fortunate to get a book published. I entered my novella in a competition and won, with part of the prize being publication. The thing is though, that if you love to write, that needs to be your primary impulse, rather than the hope of publication. I read this just yesterday – “In the end people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others, live your life impressing yourself.” I do so agree with that.
Nancy: React to this quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
Cath: If you are moved to create, the thing you create is neither right not wrong, it just is. You have to work to make it your best of course. But no-one else can create that thing – that story, in the case of a writer. Only you can write your story. We each have to find our own voice, and learn to trust it.
Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Cath: I’m not a very manually dexterous person, but I love doing origami, creating little boxes and other 3-D forms out of sheets of paper – it’s magic.
Nancy: Wow. The things we find out in these interviews! Anything else you want to add?
Cath: Just that I’m really looking forward to writing – and eating, and drinking! – with you all in Italy next Spring! Perhaps I’ll slip some origami paper into my luggage too…
Nancy: Please do!
Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her prize-winning debut novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1
(BTW Read Kathy Fish’s review of The Plankton Collector’s here)