I met Cathi Unsworth at Impressions d'Europe, a literary festival, in Nantes last year and asked her if she would like to join a school project with international section students. She immediately accepetd and as we were both very busy last year, everything is starting this school year!
Cathi Unsworth is a novelist, writer and editor who lives and works in London. She began her career on the legendary music weekly Sounds at the age of 19 and has worked as a writer and editor for many other music, film and arts magazines since, including Bizarre, Melody Maker, Mojo, Uncut, Volume and Deadline.
Her first novel THE NOT KNOWING was published in 2005, followed the next year with the award-winning short story compendium LONDON NOIR, which she edited, and in 2007 with the punk noir novel THE SINGER. Her third novel, BAD PENNY BLUES, inspired by the unsolved 'Jack the Stripper' murders of 1959-65 was published in 2010 to great critical acclaim. Her 2012 book WEIRDO, a tale of teenage trauma and female transgression set on the Norfolk coast was shortlisted in many 'best of the year' lists including the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and named Book of the Year 2012 by Loud and Quiet Magazine and crimesquad.com
Her latest work Without The Moon, based on two true crimes that occurred during the dark days of February 1942, may well be her best yet.
As well as working on her books Cathi has appeared on TV and radio including reviewing for BBC2's The Culture Show. She regularly takes part in live events, has given screen talks at The Barbican in London and performed spoken word gigs organised by Tight Lip and The Sohemian Society.
Her webiste: http://www.cathiunsworth.co.uk/
It is a great pleasure and an honor to welcome her as a guest writer on my blog!
Thank you so much Cathi!
Hello everyone, my name is Cathi Unsworth and for as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer.
I was fortunate enough to have been brought up in a house full of love and books – both my parents were teachers and avid readers themselves, keen to pass on the joy of words to my brother and I. So I grew up with my head in a book, escaping into different worlds – the guinea pig’s eye view in Michael Bond’s The Tale of Olga Da Polga, those of the dogs in Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmations, and of a glamorous suburban sorceress in Beverly Nichols’ The Wickedest Witch In The World, whose leading character, Miss Smith, I still think about when I put my make-up on each morning.
Looking back at it now, the allure of these worlds was that they were different from mine and I longed to be able to step through the pages and follow the characters I loved. I must have realised that the only way I could ever achieve this was to have a go myself, as I think I tried to write my own first book when I was about six, or thereabouts. The story was about the wooden horses on a carousel who came alive and escaped into the wild, and my mother still has the little booklet I made for her with my drawings, feverishly copied from my stack of pony books, illustrating the tale.
I carried on writing my ‘books’ throughout my teenage years. Most of them were probably a mirror of the paperbacks I was still consuming in large quantities, but, looking back, I was learning from them the rules of plot, structure and dialogue as much as I was learning from my English teacher at school. I loved my drawing equally and went from school to Art College, first in the town where I grew up and then to London to take a course called Fashion Journalism, where I learned how to write for magazines.
Part of the course involved working in industry, and I spent two weeks at a weekly music paper, who took me on as a writer after an exciting spell on the news desk. Now I was writing for a living, and continued to do so on magazines for the next 14 years. Along the way, I met and interviewed some people who helped me start my career as a novelist. When I was given the job of compiling the books page for a magazine called Bizarre, I set about interviewing all the people I could whose books had meant the most to me.
One of them was a very kind man called Ken Bruen, who was a novelist and a teacher. I couldn’t believe he could fit all this work into the hours of the day, but he gave me the greatest advice that any budding novelist could have received, which is what I’d like to share with you all today.
Ken’s advice was simple. Write two pages a day, every day. If you keep that up, he said, you’ll have written the first draft of a novel in six months. Make the story revolve around something you are interested in and either know a lot about or want to learn more about, and use all the strange situations, funny dialogue, and incidents that have stuck in your mind throughout your life to give the characters their realism. Once you have invented the characters, they will help you with the plot, as you will find they often have a way of taking things over for you.
I consider Ken to be a bit of a magician, because everything he said came true and I did write a novel in six months. It then took another two years to get published, which taught me something else. Writing is about hard work and perseverance as much as imagination and the thrill of inventing a whole world on the page.
But that hard work is all worth it in the end, when you have that first novel in your hand, there is no feeling like it. You have made something from thin air that could last for hundreds of years. You have put into it all the people you love and made them immortal. And you have travelled to places, seen things and met people you could never have in real life – unless, perhaps, you really had a time machine. I can’t think of any other profession that offers this amount of time and space travel as its rewards, not even that of an astronaut.
I think writing novels appeals to people who maybe feel a bit lonely or different from everyone else, like they don’t fit in as well with the world as most of the people around them. That’s why books are such good escape hatches when you are growing up and keep on giving as you grow and learn more throughout your life. Books are friends and companions, sharing wisdom and support, and they will never desert you. To write one yourself is, I think, the most magical thing you can do.
I can’t wait to meet you all through the wonders of modern technology in February and hear any questions you’d like to ask me. Until then, keep reading and writing…