About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Monday, September 29, 2008

What's in a Name?

After all these years, I am seriously thinking of changing my name. Actually, I probably don't need to do that. All I need to do is use my other name, the one I acquired when I got married. Lees. Catherine Lees. Easy to say, spell and remember.
Except that when I did get married, my then agent said 'you're not changing your name are you?' and I said 'no'. But maybe back then, it would have been a good thing.
I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because for all that I've spent the past twenty five years or so as a reasonably successful full time freelance writer, earning my living that way (a pretty precarious living, but still!) with awards and fellowships and plays and publications to boot, nobody up here in the small pond that is Scottish literature ever remembers who I am and - much more important - what it is I do.
So what has prompted this cry from the heart? Or should that be howl of protest? Partly it was because, for some unknown reason, I was prompted to join a Facebook group called Wannabee a Writer. Still don't quite remember why I did it. Anyway, I finally saw the light and thought, I've got an agent, a substantial body of published and produced work, and even, God help me, a play as recommended reading on the Scottish Higher Drama syllabus. If I'm not a writer now, I never will be. And like a small pebble starting a landslide, that caused me to question my whole writing persona.
Partly it's my own fault of course because I've chopped and changed a lot, working - variously - on radio drama, television, theatre, stories, novels, non fiction and poetry, with a bit of journalism thrown in for good measure, but then I'm not alone in this. Most writers find that they have to have a portfolio of work to keep them going.
Catherine, I said to myself, You are no longer a wannabee. (You can tell that I give myself some very good advice, though I very seldom follow it.)
But all writers, I think, find it hard to see themselves as professionals partly because a writing career generally evolves over a long period and we learn and change all the time. So we tend to retain that feeling of being an apprentice long after other professionals have taken full advantage of their experienced status. And guess what - that's how people tend to treat us. They take us at our own valuation and tell us that it's a nice little hobby we have there, and ask us what it is that we actually do for a living?
Mind you, I find that many male writers, particularly here in Scotland, do tend to be much more full of confidence in themselves and their abilities than the females. They know what they want to write and how they want to write it, they go ahead and do it - and once more, people take them at their own valuation. In promotional terms, whatever they do, they seem to start out with a very clear idea of their own branding.
So maybe that's the answer. Maybe I need to rebrand myself. Reposition myself in the market place. Invent a new me. Give myself a new name. And I think I need to start pleasing myself more. By which I don't mean selfishly ignoring the needs of others, but actively trying to ask myself what - in a professional sense - might make me happy. Pleasing myself. It's a simple enough concept but in the context of what I do for a living, it seems frighteningly revolutionary.
I think I need to go and lie down in a darkened room and think about it some more!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

or back to the PC at least, from an all too brief holiday in the South of France where -unlike Scotland, for most of the time this summer - the sun was shining and it was warm. Have spent the days since our return trying to catch up on mainly writing associated tasks including drafting out a piece for the Financial Times weekend supplement about the beautiful mediaeval city of Carcassonne. Mind you - as anyone who has read Kate Mosse's Labyrinth will know, Carcassonne has a very checkered and somewhat brutal past. I knew about the place years before I saw it (for the first time, last year) because when I read Mediaeval Studies at Edinburgh University I had a friend who was obsessed with everything to do with the Cathars, the Albigensian Crusade and so on. She would bend the ear of anyone who would listen with stories of that time, and the horrific cruelties inflicted on the Cathars by the establishment, and all in the name of Christianity. It was fascinating and ever since, whenever the subject of Templars, Cathars etc has come up - quite often, since the Da Vinci code phenomenon - I have thought of Dorothy, sitting in our flat, clutching a glass of wine and regaling us with tales of mediaeval savagery. The last time I saw her, she was heading for Venice with all her worldly goods in an assortment of carrier bags. We stuffed her into a railway compartment with them - and never heard from her again.
I'm busy revising The Physic Garden which seems good in parts - and about to try to build on my recent commissions for the FT by trying to place more - many more - freelance articles. I seem to have discovered an unexpected talent for travel writing although I'm aware that it is a heavily over subscribed market. The other thing I know about and can write about in a popular way is, of course antiques and most particularly 'women's things' for want of a better term - textiles, embroidery, vintage and antique clothes, dolls, teddies, perfumes, jewellery. What really fascinates me is that whole area which antique dealers call 'provenance': the tales which are embedded in objects from the past. It's a fruitful source of inspiration for writing and I intend to try to tap into my own knowledge over the coming year.