MAMA LIFE EXCLUSIVE
Resident Author Christie Barlow meets Author Cathy Bramley
Cathy, tell us a bit about yourself and the sort of books you write.
I grew up in Birmingham where my family moved from one house to another and then another on the same road. My parents still live there, next door to the allotments which gave me the idea for my novel Ivy Lane. I moved to Nottingham to study at university, met my husband and never really left! Now I live in a small Nottinghamshire village with my family and our dog, Pearl. I write women’s commercial fiction and specifically, romantic comedy. My books always have happy endings.
White Lies and Wishes is about three women who, on meeting for the first time, decide to make a wish list for that year. Do you have a wish list?
I’m always saying, or sometimes just thinking, that I’d love to do things and half of the time I forget all about it. Here are some of my top wishes. I’d like to own a cape. A big swishy one like Demelza wears in Poldark. I’d like to go to a proper Regency ball and learn all the dances and get dressed up in all the requisite finery. I’d like to own a painting by Dave White. He uses gold leaf and diamond dust on his canvases and they’re amazing. I’d like to live by the sea for a while, perhaps rent a house in Hope Cove in Devon for six months and take long walks on the beach. I recently visited that part of the world to research locations for my 2018 summer book and totally fell in love with it.
Describe a typical writing day for you.
My day begins as follows: school run, dog walk, breakfast, more coffee, thick socks on…and then I’m ready to work! I will usually spend seven hours at my desk, punctuated by sneaky peeks at Twitter and Facebook and trips to the kettle. I start by reading through yesterday’s writing and then make a few bullet points about what today’s words should convey. I plot quite extensively before I begin writing a book. Sometimes I stick to my plan, sometimes I don’t, but I need the plan before I can begin. My chapters are around 3000 words each and an excellent day means starting and finishing a whole chapter. But I don’t beat myself up if this doesn’t happen; some days I write faster than others. Arguments are super-fast to write! My daughters arrive home around four-thirty, starving, which is usually a good time to stop writing and have a think about what I’m going to tackle tomorrow.
Female friendship is at the heart of this novel. How do your characters help each other develop throughout the novel?
Jo, Carrie and Sarah have such an inauspicious meeting – all outside at a funeral, doing things they’d rather not be seen doing. This throws them together and I thought it would be fun to see how a friendship could grow out of an awkward situation. They start off with such low expectations of each other: Carrie is convinced neither of them will like her; Jo thinks she’s wasting her time; Sarah is intrigued by the other two and initially the most reluctant to make a wish. But gradually they form a support network for each other, at first offering advice but then later, seeking each other out for help and eventually wanting to extend the friendship circle by bringing Abi into it too. They are all happier people for having each other as friends by the end of the book.
Did you know you always wanted to be a writer?
I never, ever expected or wanted to become a writer. If you’d told me five years ago that this would be my job, I’d have laughed my head off. Reading has always been an important part of my life; I can’t imagine not having a book on the go – it just wouldn’t happen. But writing one myself didn’t occur to me until 2012, but when I did, I fell in love with it. I wrote my first book, Conditional Love and self-published it, with, I must admit, low expectations. To my surprise, it became a Kindle best-seller and I was approached by a publisher to write more. I hadn’t been planning a career change but after writing three novels, I decided to give up my marketing business and write full-time.
What authors and books have had a strong influence on your writing?
I can’t really distinguish between authors I love and those who influence me; I guess it’s probably one and the same. There are authors whose books I will automatically buy without even reading the blurb like Lucy Diamond, Jenny Colgan, Miranda Dickinson, Rachael Lucas, Jill Mansell, Katie Forde and Diane Chamberlain. I have just finished reading It Started With Paris by Cathy Kelly and adored it. I also love anything by Veronica Henry. However, my number one is still Marian Keyes whose characterization and wit can make me laugh days after I’ve finished the book.
White Lies and Wishes deals with lots of issues modern women experience, including motherhood and work-life balance. How hard do you think it is to seize the day while living a busy life?
Incredibly hard! Sometimes it’s enough just to get to the end of the day without a stiff drink (and/or a little cry)! In my experience and that of many of my friends, when I became a mum, I had to give up a lot of the things I really enjoyed doing: my exercise classes, time with my friends, my ‘me-time’. It seemed to me that my husband’s life didn’t alter that much. My girls are teenagers now and it’s a lot easier to manage my work-life balance, but for many years, I felt guilty. When I was at work, I felt bad that I wasn’t there for them, and when I was at home I was conscious that I wasn’t giving 100 percent to my job.
What advice would you give a budding novelist?
Write the best book you can and then go on a reputable course or guided retreat to learn how to critique and improve your work. Some people prefer to go on courses first before starting to write, so whichever works for you, I guess. But think of that first draft as just you telling yourself the story. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to re-tell it for the readers – this can be the tricky part! Practice makes perfect. Just remember that if one day you decided you were going to be a tennis player, you wouldn’t expect to unearth an old racquet from the cupboard and be ready to play at Wimbledon within the month. It takes time to develop skill and I feel like I’m learning with every book I write. Keep at it and be prepared to learn.
White Lies and Wishes is about finding your own happy ending, no matter what your life looks like. What does happiness look like to you?
A family Christmas, baking the perfect Victoria sponge, date night with my husband, dinner with my best friends, a hug from my daughters, a country walk on a crisp, sunny winter’s morning, buying something from Tiffany’s, a glass of champagne on publication day!