An Interview with Catherine M Byrne, author of Isa’s Daughter

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I’m pleased to welcome Catherine M Byrne to Linda’s Book Bag today. Catherine’s latest novel Isa’s Daughter is the fourth in Catherine’s Raumsey Series (all of which can be found here and directly from the publisher here) and today Catherine has kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing and Isa’s Daughter in particular.

Isa’s Daughter

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The Great War is over, and the inhabitants of Raumsey Island struggle to regain their livelihood. Seventeen-year-old Annie Reid is a spirited, ambitious girl, determined not to end up a herring gutter or go into service.

Annie befriends a young schoolteacher, Alexander Garcia, who promises to help her further her education but, after tragedy strikes, Annie pursues a nursing career amidst the political complexity of Glasgow. Garcia dreams of a return to his Spanish roots, but Spain is also in political turmoil.

Annie’s love for the teacher remains through the years, but will love overcome the barriers and prejudice of race, religion, beliefs and distance?

An Interview with Catherine M Byrne

Hello Catherine. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Isa’s Daughter in particular.

Firstly, please could you tell readers a little about yourself?

I was born on the Island of Stroma, and was brought up hearing stories from my parents and grandparents about the island life of a different generation. An interest in geology, history and my strong ties to the island have influenced the choice of genre for my first series.

I have had some success as a landscape artist and I worked as a glass engraver with Caithness Glass until I left to become administrator for my husband’s two businesses. I always wanted to write, however.

Since first attending the AGM of the Scottish Association of Writers in 1999, I have won several prizes, commendations and have been short-listed both for short stories and chapters of my novel. In 2009, I won second prize in the general novel category for Follow The Dove.

My main ambition was to write novels and since the death of my husband in 2005, I have retired in order to write full time.

dove

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

When I was at school, maybe aged about eight, my teacher asked us if we had any little poem in a book at home that we could recite for the Christmas Treat.  I found one, and I also wrote one. The teacher very kindly said they were both very good, ‘but you can only have one,’ she said. No surprise that she did not choose the one written by me.  Since I also loved to draw, I began to draw comic strips and wrote stories to go with them. In my teens, I wrote song lyrics and rhyming poems, so I guess the urge was always there.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

An artist. I’ve sold many of my landscapes. I haven’t been painting much since I started writing seriously.

How do you carry out the research for your novels?

Internet, reading, visiting the places I write about (where possible) and speaking to historians.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I love writing descriptions. I see the place in my mind’s eye, I transport myself there, ask myself what am I feeling, what am I smelling, who is walking around me? I also like writing dialogue. I become my character, get into the conversation, become angry, sad, happy as the scene dictates.  The most difficult aspect is marketing. I find it very difficult to put myself out there. My fan base is steadily growing, and I sell a lot of books locally, but I need to get further afield.

I met some tourists from America recently who bought a box of my books to take home with them. Can’t imagine the weight of their luggage.

(I think an awful lot of writers will empathise with that marketing dilemma Catherine!)

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

Since I now live alone, my computer is in the corner of my dining room. I write as the muse dictates. I do try to write a bit every day, sometimes just one sentence, but I’m thinking about my story most of the time.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

Apart from what I read for research, I read most genres. Right now I’m into psychological thrillers or murder mysteries. I do like to read factual books as well. Sometimes I just want something beautiful.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I enjoy travel, gardening, my computer and walking the dogs. Ideas come to me while walking in the countryside or along the beach. My contemporary novella, Song for an Eagle, was prompted by a photograph of my granddaughter and an eagle.

eagle

Why did you choose the Orkney’s and Spain as your settings for Isa’s Daughter?

I chose Orkney as I was born on the island of Stroma myself, although Stroma is not technically one of the Orkney islands, it has close connections.The character of Isa Reid features strongly in the first book of the series, Follow the Dove, and she is very loosely based on a real person. The Spanish Armada was shipwrecked off the north coast of Scotland, so the story goes, and many of the sailors survived to settle and live there. So you could say we do have Spanish blood in our veins!

(How romantic!)

You explore big themes such as love and lust, truth and deceit, family relationships and the place of women in society in Isa’s Daughter. How far did you plan for these and how far did they arise naturally out of your writing?

All my novels explore love, lust, truth and deceit, and family relationships. I think they arise naturally from human nature. The place of women in society arose from Annie’s spirit and the period in which the novel is set. I wrote about the world through Annie’s eyes, and the things she encountered.

I know you are marketing Isa’s Daughter yourself. What advice would you give to others who are self-publishing and trying to get their book noticed? 

It’s difficult to get your book notice when marketing yourself. Social media is a great tool. Apart from that I give talks to women’s groups, set up a stall at fayres and offer my books to several outlets on a sale or return basis. Although it’s very slow, if your book is good, word of mouth is one of the best ways to get your book noticed.

What plans do you have next for your writing?

When I finished Isa’s Daughter, I felt almost bereft. So much so, that I immediately started another in the saga of the same family. However, I am also working on a psychological thriller, my favourite genre.

Which of your characters would you most like to be and why?

I think I’d be Isa. She’s strong and feisty. Of course she’s not featured so much in my new novel as it’s all about her daughter, Annie.

If one of your books  became a film, which would you choose and why?

It would have to be the first, Follow the Dove. That would leave the way open for the others.

(Ha ha – good point!)

How important do you think social media is to authors in today’s society?

It appears to be very important in getting your name out there. For someone like myself who doesn’t do much else in the way of marketing, it’s a must.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that a Catherine M Byrne book should be their next read, what would you say?

A good read that’ll turn out to be a lot different to what you expect.

Is there anything else you would have liked to be asked?

Where am I going next? Well I miss my characters so much I’m staying with them. Number five in the series will take us up to and through the second world war. Let me say that each book is stand alone. But, hey, in between times, I’m working on another novella, a psychological thriller.

Thank you so much for your time, Catherine, in answering my questions.

And thank you for allow me to.

Pleasure!

About Catherine M Byrne

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You can find out more about Catherine and her books by visiting her website, finding her on Facebook and by following her on Twitter.

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