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A PATH LESS PUBLISHED: INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE O'FLYNN
Samantha Smith
A PATH LESS PUBLISHED: INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE O'FLYNN
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WHAT WAS LOST by Catherine O'Flynn is one of 20 books longlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and O'Flynn demonstrates a talent for re-rendering the world through her characters that certainly should prove award-winning. WHAT WAS LOST is Catherine's first novel and is published by Birmingham's Tindal Street Press.

Transition Tradition spoke to Catherine about the less travelled road to becoming a published author and the unexpected realities of a book launch...

1) Hello Catherine, could you begin by telling us about your 'career path' to this point?

I really haven't had anything that remotely resembles a career path. I've done a lot of different jobs - postwoman, teacher, editor, web manager, retail drone, mystery customer. I have a perverse fondness for quite bad jobs - I find them quite stimulating. A pattern has emerged where I work somewhere quite happily for a while in some relatively lowly capacity, then I get promoted, then the company folds soon after. I try not to think about this.

2) Is there any link between the less mentally taxing positions and periods of great productivity as a writer?

I think for me there definitely is - though 'great productivity' is perhaps overstating it a little in my case. More 'mentally-demanding' jobs like teaching or editing tend to take over my head and leave no space for writing or thinking. In addition the less demanding jobs seem to offer more inspiration and entertainment.

There's something about being excruciatingly bored, or having to put up with an inordinate amount of rubbish for 5.50 an hour that really crystallises your thoughts and feelings about life.

It's a difficult thing to pull off though - it has to be just the right kind of bad job. Too bad and it depresses you too much to write, too comfortable and you become too complacent and don't write either. Of course there is the possibility that I'm just criminally lazy and will look for any excuse not to write.

3) Writing as an antidote to full-time employment is one thing but how did you make the shift to published writer? There seems to be a requirement for a different yet complimentary set of skills to make that happen, which don't square with the criminally lazy accusation!

I honestly never set out with the ambition to be published. I don't think that's a good ambition to have. My aim was to try and write the story I had in my head, and I wasn't sure I'd achieve that. The fact that I managed to do it was so surprising to me, that to try and get it published only seemed equally unreal. I sent it out to various agents not really expecting much as I had no track record, and so not really being terribly surprised when I'd hear nothing back or get a rejection note that gave no indication that it had been read. Then one day an agent read it and liked it and my 'sense of disbelief'lifted yet another notch. I don't mean that to sound falsely modest, I did believe in what I'd written, but I thought getting published was in the realms of camels and needles.

4) It sounds as though employment has enabled your writing. Do you feel the process would have been more difficult (or at least more pressured) if you had set out to become a 'professional' writer and named that to intention to yourself / friends and family?

I think it's difficult to guage how much pressure to put on yourself - I definitely need some. I wrote the book in Barcelona. My boyfriend and I gave up our jobs, moved to Catalunya and had about a year before our money ran out and we had to get jobs. The freedom of not having to work felt like a massive luxury but also a massive responsibility. I felt obliged to make the most of the time and try and write everyday. With limitless funds and limitless time I'm not sure I would ever have got around to doing anything much except drink too much Estrella Damm and mutter menacingly on a bench in Placa George Orwell.

5) Have any aspects of the book's launch surprised or amused you?

Men in car coats striding purposefully towards me brandishing bics and saying 'I shall be the first'. That was at the Birmingham launch. That surprised me.

6) Do you have plans for another novel?

Not at the moment no. I don't want to write anything until I have something I want to write about as much as I did with What Was Lost.

7) What do you wish you'd known when you began writing? Are there any resources or contacts you would recommend to other writers?

I didn't really make use of the wealth of resources on the internet - doubtless I should have done. My approach was pretty lo-fi, I had my out of date copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook and that was about it. The best 'resource' if you can call it that, was having someone I could talk to about the book as it developed, someone who knew it inside out and who I could run things by. I would recommend purchasing a person like this.

8) If you could meet any of the characters from "What Was Lost" which would it be?

I've already met a lot of them in one shape or another during my life, and most of them I wouldn't want to meet again. Kate would be nice to spend time with, but I'd probably just get in the way on one of her stake-outs.

9) Finally, do you have a favourite quote or saying you would like to share with us?

My favourite quote is: "Ahem said Tim as he swallowed the dishcloth". This is something my father would say at random intervals. I can't say it has ever been useful in my life, or provided any kind of maxim to live by, but it seemed to amuse him greatly and I'd like to pass it on to anyone who thinks they may have a use for it.

Visit Tindal Street Press to buy "What Was Lost" or learn more at : http://www.tindalstreet.co.uk/catalogue/item_detail.php?id=236&cid;=16

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