Hello! Today I’m staying warm indoors and chatting to Cathie Devitt. Her most recent novel, Don’t Doubt the Magic! is the second in a trilogy featuring her heroine Bernice O’Hanlon . This, together with Part One, Don’t Drink and Fly!, is published by Roundfire.
Tell us a little about your writing life to date.
I have always enjoyed writing , brought on by my love of reading and the fact that my Dad wrote poetry and short stories, sometimes song lyrics. I was always scribbling away and English was my best subject at school due to my imagination. I wrote poems and speeches for special occasions and the likes which folk always seemed to enjoy as I was always asked to write more. My published writing began with short stories or articles in magazines then onto poetry and short stories in anthologies. I have worked as a web content editor which included writing articles and interviews for an International website. That’s like learning a whole new language and format. I currently work in Local Government writing policies and briefing notes for officials as well as responding to enquiries from the general public. Again, way different from creative writing.
Where did your inspiration for the character of Bernice O’Hanlon come from?
My friend is a High Priestess, Wiccan witch. She introduced me to Wicca and I thought that would be an interesting lifestyle for my protagonist, Bernice. Something different. I am interested in holistic therapies , all that oil and candles, what’s not to love. I did a lot of research on Wicc and was delighted to be invited to speak at their annual gathering (Witchfest International) http://witchfest.net/events/witchfest-international/ )
Never knew there were so many witches out there. It was amazing to get the validation from those at Witchfest that my portrayal was accurate. Some folks put my books down as fantasy writing, but Wicca isn’t fantasy, it’s a way of life which embraces nature and all that is good with the world.
Did you intend to write a trilogy from the outset?
No, I submitted the work as a novel and my publisher encouraged me to break it into a trilogy which is difficult as the books have to be stand alone too rather than just telling the story from beginning to end. I am not sure I would set out to write a trilogy again, particularly due to the gaps between each part being published. I feel it’s easy to lose momentum for the reader. A series perhaps based on specific characters would be okay I think.
Your play Mammy was very successful. Does writing drama throw up different challenges to writing a novel?
I have been told I have an ear for dialogue. I think that’s a nice way of saying I can be nosey. Sorry, observant. This shows in my prose writing and when the opportunity to write the play presented itself I was in my element. I have written and performed sketches throughout my life. Yes, there are different challenges. A play is right there in front of your audience, in the moment. They can’t flick back a few pages to check they understand anything. Books leave the reader to use their imaginations on how characters and settings look for example. On stage you need to use facial expressions and props to explore ways of keeping the excitement going.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Don’t be put off by other people’s opinions. Write what you feel most comfortable with. One person may eat snails by the bucket, but their pleasure doesn’t equate to what you want to taste. Accept constructive criticism. Seek out other writers who understand the process. Most are very supportive regardless of where they are in their own writing career. Don’t ever try to copy another writer’s style. You are a unique individual, let that shine through. There is no such thing as a new subject to write about. Express yourself in your writing and that will shine through. Most of all, enjoy learning the craft of writing and the process. Don’t give up the day job!
What is the best part of being an author? And the worst?
Best part of being an author for me is polishing a piece of work to a standard that I feel happy with. On a shallow level, standing in Waterstones book store with a pile of your printed books to one side, and an eager audience in front of you is well exciting. The worst, for me, is the fact that like many other people I have day job and family constraints that block the way sometimes. Also the sneery attitude of some when you say you are a writer. We don’t all have delusions of being the next JK. Some of us write for the joy of it and being published and able to share our work is a bonus.
Who are your writing heroes?
I don’t have specific writing heroes nor do I faithfully follow any writers. For me it is all about the story and how it is told. Sometimes writers get complacent and bash out novel after novel without a refresh. That’s disappointing to me. I like fresh perspectives and new angles to keep my appetite. I pick up stray books because I am attracted to the cover (bad I know) or the blurb. I have found some crackers that way, and some duds but such is life. I don’t buy a book based on reviews. I like to make my own mind up. It is interesting to go after you have read a book and put your own thoughts down there, then read the others to see if you have grasped the story or need to think about re-reading the book.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Holly Golightly, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – she is smart resourceful and cheers me up.
James Bond because he can get us out of any situation with his clever tricks.
The Invisible Man so he could sneak around and forage for food without fear of being gobbled by a wild animal.
Wine gums or chocolate as your preferred snack of choice when immersed in writing?
Wine Gums, cos they last longer but I really prefer savoury so I have crisps and nuts on my desk.
Part 3 of the trilogy, Don’t Break the Circle!, should be done and dusted soon. I have a crime novel and a psychological thriller at draft so may push one of those upfront. I also have an idea for a novel focussing on someone who has been wrongly convicted of a serious crime, fictionalised but showing crime from a different perspective.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions!
You are very welcome, Emma! Thank you for contacting me.
Cathie has enjoyed various writing success including publication of short stories and poetry in anthologies, Creative Writing awards, and theatre success in particular with the play Mammy which Cathie wrote for Magner’s International Comedy Festival in 2011. Following five star success the play toured the UK and attracted sell-out audiences at Edinburgh Festival and Henley Festival.
Cathie has work published in many anthologies including Magic Mixtures, Distant Shadows, Spotlight poetry, New Writing Dundee, and Grown ups in the Loft, and in international magazines Scottish Women, Scottish Memories, Women’s Weekly, Management Tomorrow and The Lady.