I'm delighted that my sunday interviewee is Cathie Hartigan
I began by asking her:
I'm very interested to learn about the story behind Secret of the Song - when did you first come across the works of Gesualdo - did you hear the music first and then discover the stories about him?
It all happened at once, Annie. About ten years ago, I sang in a small choir, and one evening the choirmaster suggested we tried a piece by Gesualdo. The mere mention of the name generated much shuffling and grumbling from other members of the choir. I was surprised by this, as we were used to singing all sorts of songs from across both the world, both contemporary and going back many centuries. Our first attempt was ragged. Were these the correct notes? It sounded so discordant! We had another go, but it wasn’t much better. What did we expect? It was the music of a madman. My ears pricked up at this. Those that knew offered further comment. He got away with murder. Those Renaissance aristocrats…tut tut! Music, madness, murder? I was hooked.
How much research did you need to do - did you visit the locations mentioned in the book?
The research was delicious. It ticked all my favourite boxes. Museums for a start. Exeter’s wonderful RAMM figures quite a lot in the contemporary thread and I know it very well, as I am an Exeter resident. The V&A in London had a marvellous exhibition several years ago entitled At Home in Renaissance Italy. I learnt a great deal there, and similarly when there was an exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery of Elizabethan clothes.
As for the locations, I have been to Italy a few times, but Naples only for a couple of days, and that was a long time ago. It remains clear in my mind though, especially the menace of the narrow streets. With a little help from Google Streetview, it could have been yesterday and I doubt much as changed in four hundred years.
Can you tell us a little bit about Creative Writing Matters? What is your involvement with it and what are its aims?
CreativeWritingMatters came about as a result of my leaving mainstream education, where I was teaching creative writing, and going freelance. I wanted to provide a more flexible space for the encouragement of writing. It seemed to me that there was a world of difference between what was going on in class and the reality of the publishing industry. I discovered this though my membership of the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme. In the early days, I hosted workshops by published authors as well as running courses and competitions. The other two members of the CreativeWritingMatters team, Sophie Duffy and Margaret James, I met at my local writing group, Exeter Writers. Margaret and I have since published two writing guides: The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook and The Short Story Writer’s Workbook.
And leading on from that, can you explain about the Exeter Prize and how it can help aspiring authors?All three of us are teachers as well as authors, and we have furthered our own careers through competition success. Hence our commitment to helping other writers and providing literary competitions as steps on the road. We believe that any listing is a real boost to the confidence of a writer. A number of wins or listings shows commitment and a persistent high standard. Properly preparing your work for submission is another step towards professionalism.
The Exeter Novel Prize is now in its fourth year. It is and international competition for unpublished or independently published novels from writers who have not secured an agent. We are pleased and proud that Broo Doherty from DHH Literary Agency is our final judge. The publishing success of our winners and many of those listed is very heartening.
You've won awards for your short stories. Did you find any different challenges when it came to writing a novel?
Yes! There are many different challenges. Secret of the Song isn’t my first novel, although no one is every going to see my previous efforts. In those, I learned how to cope with the sheer scale of a novel. With a short story I find it is quite easy to keep its entirety in my head - I’m beginning here and going there, it’s about so-and-so and this is the problem/issue. A novel has a lot more of everything - even though at the end it can often be squeezed back down into a central question. Secret of the Song is a time-slip with a dual narrative and alternating chapters. It’s a structure that required sufficient interest in both stories for the reader to want to keep finding out what happened in the other one, but with enough connecting material so they didn’t come across as completely unrelated. For someone like me, who isn’t a very good planner, it was quite a challenge.
And speaking of novels, do you have any more in the pipeline?
Yes, I do. It’s early days for the one I’m writing, but I can tell you that WWII will figure rather than the Renaissance and there will be two threads. I’m hoping to go back to the Renaissance in the novel after that. Italy seems to keep knocking on my head and there will be musicians in both too, but none quite so mad as Gesualdo.
Thank you so much for talking to me today, Cathie.
Buy Secret of the Song
Buy The Creative Writing Student's Handbook
Buy The Short Story Writer's Workbook
Creative Writing Matters