Wednesday 9 September 2015

A Conversation with Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cathy Rentzenbrink, like most authors, has a profound love of reading. She says it is her ‘comfort, pleasure, hobby and addiction’. Cathy was born in Cornwall and grew up in Yorkshire. After the traumatic death of her much loved brother Matty she moved to London and worked in Waterstones’ bookshops for ten years.

Cathy was Project Director for the charity Quick Reads which helps people all over the world who struggle with basic literacy skills. She is also Associate Editor of The Bookseller and We Love This Book. These roles require Cathy to speak on television and radio and write for newspapers and magazines on a whole range of issues relating to literacy and literature.

Cathy joins host Nikki Bedi on BBC Radio London for a book club programme aired each month.

Cathy’s memoir The Last Act of Love is an honest and moving account of the devastating tragedy that shattered her family one summer’s night in 1990.  Cathy was just seventeen when her brother Matty, aged sixteen, was knocked down by a car as he walked home after an evening out with friends. Cathy prayed for Matty to live and her prayers were answered. It was some time before she realised that she had prayed for the wrong thing.

It is a book that will resonate with many who have been through their own personal grief - and for those who have not it enhances gratitude for being spared such pain. Cathy’s story conveys the strength of love that she and her parents had for Matty by their devotion to his care but it also shows the destructive nature of guilt that can accompany such a powerful love.

The Last Act of Love is beautifully written, tremendously sad in parts but exudes affection and dedication throughout.  A brilliant book with an extract available.

We thank you Cathy for answering our questions and wish you good luck for the future.

Tell us of your journey as a writer
I wanted to make up stories from the moment I knew they existed. I didn’t plan to write The Last Act of Love at all but the story line kept arriving uninvited in all the novels I was trying to write. An author friend said I should just get the story out of me and not worry if it ended up in a drawer. So, I started and then gradually realised that the pages I was making could become a book.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I’m much more used to being a reader than a writer and still feel very cautious even about describing myself as a writer. It took me until I was 41 to finish a book so I feel superstitious about assuming that I can do it again. What I like most about it is the sense of achievement in having wrestled so complex a story on to the page and I love hearing from readers and talking to them at events. I especially like it when people ask questions that make me think in a way that I haven’t quite before and I often learn something new about myself and my book by honestly answering questions about it.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
All the time. And generally in life I empathise with people who might not be very pleasant. I tend to think that no one wants to behave badly, so, if they are, those actions are coming from a place of pain. A character without flaws would be rather dull, in life as well as in literature.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?
I’d like to be next to the sea, but not anywhere too hot. So, I’d take Cornwall if the magic machine could guarantee no rain. I love writing in Cornwall – I was born there and my parents live there – but it does rain a lot. I like to be able to go out for walks and look at down the sea from the cliffs when I feel a bit stuck. I love watching the waves crash against the cliffs and dreaming up stories of smugglers and wreckers.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
I don’t really think like that because it feels like any book could only be the product of the person who has made it. I suppose, following on from the last question, I admire the way Daphne du Maurier writes about Cornwall. I’d love to be able to pour suspense into a story the way she does in Jamaica Inn or Rebecca. In general, I envy writers who are prolific. I have so many ideas and it takes me so long to turn one of them into anything that I fret about the others. I wish I was faster.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
Just go for it. Buy a notebook and write down some words. Try not to waste your time and energy on self-doubt, as that is an inescapable part of the creative process. Don’t argue with that nasty voice telling you you’re rubbish, just ignore it and accumulate more words. Read a lot and widely and consider a course if you can afford it. I did an Open University module that was very useful in making me write, rather than mope around thinking that I wasn’t good enough. If you can’t afford it or fit it into your life, then think about other ways to introduce structure and discipline. There are lots of good books about writing. A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty would be a good place to start.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
I’m in the beginning stages of a novel and trying to follow all my very good advice about self-doubt, above.

You can follow Cathy on Twitter: @CathyReadsBooks

Last Act of Love is published by panmacmillan


Joanna said...

Thank you for a really interesting interview. I'm looking forward to reading The Last Act of Love and also appreciated the good advice about self-doubt, in a lake of which I am currently struggling to keep afloat.

Lindsay said...

Cathy's memoir sounds very interesting (and I'm sure heart-breaking too.) It's one I'll look out for.