Author Confessions: Catherine Simpson

Catherine Simpson is an Edinburgh-based writer and a 2013 New Writers Award recipient. Catherine's debut novel, Truestory, is represented by Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency. Learn more at catherine-simpson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @dandelion63.

We interrupted Catherine's busy schedule to ask her some burning questions. 

Which writer do you think is most overrated?

My husband is evangelical about the joys of Graham Greene; I seem to be immune.

When we were in Cuba he demanded I read Our Man in Havana but even reading it while sitting in Sloppy Joe’s bar drinking mojitos didn’t bring it alive.

Mind you, I had an ex-boyfriend who resembled Pinkie so I appreciate Brighton Rock. The bit where Rose goes to listen to Pinkie’s recorded message and discover exactly what he thought of her makes me shiver. I also enjoyed the short story ‘The Destructors’ so perhaps my husband has a point.

Is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written?

Any book that’s ever been published. To see your work on the shelves of Waterstones must be beyond fabulous. I would be taking photos and posing with it. I would not be cool.

Have you ever read a friend’s work and lied about enjoying it?

If I’m asked for feedback everything I say will be true – but there may be other things I believe to be true that I do not say.

If I’m asked for feedback everything I say will be true – but there may be other things I believe to be true that I do not say. You have to be careful; sometimes people do not actually want constructive feedback but only want reassurance that they should continue writing. I would hate to dent someone’s writing confidence.

What is your essential writing toolkit?

Pencil, paper, the seed of an idea and a deadline.

I’m more productive when under pressure. Half an hour sitting in the car outside the school, or on a bus can be very productive. I can get more achieved there than three hours sitting with my laptop at my kitchen table.

Which writers would you most like to invite to a dinner party?

We’d have a Jacob’s Join. Emily Bronte spent a long time kneading dough while she composed poetry, so she could bring the bread. Ernest Hemingway could bring something he’s hunted – a haunch of venison, perhaps. Beatrix Potter could turn up with salad vegetables from her garden in Windermere and Alan Bennett could call at Betty’s Tea Rooms on the way and pick up some lemon drizzle cake.

What is your writing snack of choice?

Bitter coffee and sweet Jaffa cakes.

In my mid-forties the fear of failure was overtaken by the fear that I would never start at all and that’s what made me put pen to paper.

What is your biggest writing fear?

In my mid-forties the fear of failure was overtaken by the fear that I would never start at all and that’s what made me put pen to paper.

I’m still dogged by all kinds of writing fears though and have written about it in another blog.

What honest piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Grab every opportunity that comes your way and wring it dry. Expect nothing and celebrate everything.

Has writing ever ruined or cemented a relationship?

Ruined: no. Cemented: definitely. I have shared lots of writing experiences; an Open University creative writing course, a Master’s degree in creative writing (at Edinburgh Napier), reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the Storyshop slot, and winning one of the New Writers Awards in 2013. Going through these experiences with other writers is definitely bonding.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

My characters are very likely to wander off to the off-licence in their wellies

I was shortlisted in a writing competition organised by an American website. I won a critique of my story which explained that for the website’s ‘international’ audience my story was unpublishable as it included incomprehensible language like ‘wellies’ and ‘off-licence’.

Seeing as my characters are very likely to wander off to the off-licence in their wellies there’s nothing I can do about that, I’m afraid.

The story was later published in Gutter magazine.

Enjoyed these Reading Confessions? Check out the confessions of other top authors Denise Mina, Caro Ramsay, James Robertson and more in our Reading Confessions blog.