I am very excited to announce today’s launch of a short story collection spanning continents, Pelt and Other Stories, by my friend, the author Catherine McNamara. I’ve already had Catherine on this blog when her novel The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy came out.
In an author interview, Catherine shared information and advice about her writing, her thoughts on the publishing industry and her tips for promotion and marketing.
Now I’m excited to have her back for launch day of Pelt, described as:
Lust and dirt from a world of places
Catherine McNamara’s stories take the reader on a pulsing, eloquent journey through post-colonial Africa and fading, melancholy Europe. McNamara deals with dirty family secrets, the stealth of AIDS, misunderstood gay love and neglected children. She shows Europe’s laundered, subjugated environment and its isolated urbanites.
Some stories are interlinked. Two foolhardy snowboarders challenge the savagery of mountain weather in the Dolomites. A Ghanaian woman strokes across a pool in the tropics, flaunting her pregnant belly before her lover’s partner. A sex worker is enlisted to care for her Italian lover’s elderly parents. Hit by a car in Brussels, a young woman returns to her doctor boyfriend. And in Berlin, Celeste visits her suicidal brother Ray and his partner for the very last time.
Pelt and Other Stories lingers on the cusp between Europe and Africa, between ancient sentiments and modern disquiet.
If you are in London – and I’m sorry I’m not – you can celebrate the launch with Catherine at the Big Green Bookshop, Unit 1, Brampton Park Rd., Wood Green, London N22 at 19:00.
I was lucky enough to meet Catherine at last year’s Matera Women’s Fiction Festival and I enjoyed her first novel. But, I have to admit, as a lover of the short story, I’m especially happy to see this collection out. In my humble opinion, short story collections published today are too few and far between, and it seems to be a difficult market for new authors to break into. So it’s nice to see that Catherine will be out publicizing her new work at the upcoming Plymouth Book Festival and the Short Story Conference in Vienna next July.
Kimberly thank you for having me and I know you are a true lover of the short story form! This book is especially dear to me for several reasons. The most obvious one is rejection. Many a short story writer has been told, Lovely story, where’s the novel? Or, Yes you can write, but short story collections don’t sell. It’s a renowned fact. This collection has been rejected on three continents – with praise and encouragement – but I’m convinced that my good track record with my small publisher turned his reluctance into enthusiasm.
I know that’s not enough to get a collection into print, but he saw how committed I was to promoting my first book and I’m sure this helped. Plus the collection was a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize in 2011 and the stories have been widely published. ‘Pelt’ is also important to me because I have been writing and publishing short stories for years, so it’s incredibly satisfying to see the works together within the same cover. And these stories also represent many years of living as an exile – observing, knitting words, trying to see into various cultures.
You write both short stories and novels. How is the process different for you? Do you write them simultaneously? Or do you write shorts between work on novels?
I can’t face the idea of writing a novel unless I know I have six unbroken months ahead of me. That’s because committing to a new novel is an exercise in stamina and belief, as well as inspiration. I am a very exacting writer and my first draft is usually pretty tidy. But the amount of time I spend on adjusting the tones of a short story can be maddening if applied to the creation of a novel. I’m not able to rush through, reach my daily word count, and work back over rubbish. I think undoing bad writing is really difficult.
Also, I enjoy the act of writing, and writing as well as I possibly can, rather than rushing to some point on the horizon. Perhaps that is why I’m lingering with short stories right now. I love the immediacy and rawness and having a pulsing result in my hands. I love seeing my stories in magazines and building up a collection. Writing a novel – I’m likely to fall into depression or no longer believe in my initial idea, or run away to Paris! Writing a short story – you don’t have time for doubt. I feel I spend a week or so teetering, utterly suspended, until I reach the final brink. Then it is as though a pact has been sealed and I must lock it away, blog or work on revisions. That pace is easy to configure with my current jumbled life, whereas committing to a big novel – I’m keen to go back there soon but slightly terrified.
I heard Italian author Francesca Marciano speak recently. After several novels, she’s finalizing her first short story collection. She said the idea seemed deceptively simple: instead of the intricate pacing and multiple characters of the novel, the slice-in-time, narrower perspective of the short story seemed simpler. And yet, she claimed to be surprised by the amount of effort in creating a brand new creative process nine or ten times to create one collection. How do you find the creative process for writing short stories?
I think this – the creation of a brand new creative process nine or ten times over – is also what fatigues the reader-who-does-not-understand-short-stories. How many times have you heard someone say, I like stories, but as soon as you’re into it then it’s over. Which is the whole point! The residue, the effect. I agree with Francesca’s observation. Writing stories might seem easier, and it might seem easy to lace them together, but it’s true each story must have a reason for existing. It must be a stand-alone. This for me this involves waiting until I have a compelling idea and then trying to set it to music. It might be the first sentence that comes into my head. Or a man I see, walking through my story. Or an emotion I’d like to isolate on the page. But the important thing, for me, is that it is propelled by the same energy that binds it together. I love this search for cadences, realisations.
What projects do you have in the works?
It’s been a while now since I’ve written a new novel and I’ve spent the past few years on promotion of my first book, and writing new short stories. I’ve found that understanding (and delineating) the promotion process is as fundamental as writing itself. But I have two finished novel-length manuscripts to revise which I’m hoping will keep me busy this winter. I’ve started another short story collection and am sending out work and entering competitions. You are only as good as your latest publication!
And yet, I imagine I will still be spending a lot of time on my two blogs ( thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.com and peltandotherstories.blogspot.com ) and on continuing promotion of both books. I have a couple of festivals in the works too, the most exciting being the 13th International Conference of the Short Story in English in Vienna in July – where I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology and attend!
Thanks, Catherine! Love your views on short story writing – and I’m sure other short story writers will agree with me. Hope you have a wonderful launch party tonight and wishing you much success with Pelt!
Thank you so much Kimberly for having me and I look forward to hearing all your writing and travel news in Matera!
To purchase Pelt, see these ordering options:
To catch up with Catherine, visit her at:
Facebook Catherine McNamara
Goodreads: Catherine McNamara
An excerpt from the title story, Pelt:
Rolfe triggers it. In the way that is the way of all men. In his case a type of athletic bragging ruined by the self-defeat he hangs his hat on. I feel a plock and, with his surprised, involuntary retreat, my waters come splashing out, gay and heralding, whereby he bounds back to inspect the folds of his manhood.
My obroni baby will come this day. I roll onto my back and raise my knees in sweet excitement, the baby nestling back even though her head is plugged within my pelvis. Soon after Rolfe is agitating with a towel, peering cautiously at my dark opening. No action there, I laugh. He looks perplexed. Despite his thirty-nine years Rolfe is unfamiliar with the mulch of his own body. A fever sends him into studied ecstasy. The tumble worm in his butt, whose head and long wrinkled body I inch into the light, is repellent and edifying.
At the apex of his growth curve I suspect I must place myself. This is the man who continues to daub his hands on my sheeny back and breasts. He told me that in Ethiopia, his last posting, they call girls like me ‘slaves’ because of our broad noses and skin a shadow cannot cross.
This is Rolfe’s first child. His wife Karina was barren. I have led Rolfe to believe that this is my first although I had two others before. They are at the village and I send them money. The midwife will no doubt perceive all of this.