This week SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to Irish author CAT HOGAN about her love of the SUNNY SOUTH EAST, writing at the kitchen table and breaking into Wexford literary BOYS’ CLUB …
Wexford native Cat Hogan has books on the brain and the ocean flowing through her veins. As a proud advocate of Ireland’s South East coast and the daughter of a seafarer; Cat’s great love of lighthouses would warm the cockles of most hearts. Inspired by Wexford’s literary ‘boys’ club’, Cat quit her job in a hotel to pursue her passion. The fruit of her labours was first novel They All Fall Down, an enthralling story of jealously, deceit and murder, set in a sleepy fishing village. The book was published last year to a glowing reception across the board. In a beautiful twist of fate, ‘boys’ club’ member Eoin Colfer has proven to be one of Cat’s great supporters. He has called the work, ‘An intoxicating cocktail of psychological thriller and emotional rollercoaster’.
They All Fall Down is an Irish Times Bestseller as well as an Amazon UK Bestseller and reached the top ten on the Amazon US chart. It was short-listed for the Annie McHale Debut Novel of the Year Award.
Kate lives in Wexford Town with her partner Dave and their two sons. She is working on her second novel.
They All Fall Down (€10.99) is published by Poolbeg Press and available nationwide from all good bookshops.
Wexford Town is home for me – the heart of the sunny South East. There’s an air of magic down here that permeates the winding streets and blows in over the harbour. A town that is very proud of our history and roots. Inspiration can be drawn by sitting close to the town walls that have been preserved since the days of yore. Traces of yola, our once unique language can still be heard today. If you ever hear a Wexford person saying it’s quare nice, or quare cold, or quare deadly – you are hearing one of the few yola words that survived.
Fish and chips on a warm summers evening takes me home all the time. The smell of briny air and diesel or the look of fuel forming a mini rainbow at the back of a trawler takes me back to my teenage days in Kilmore Quay. It now boasts its very own literary festival Write by the Sea, and I couldn’t think of a more suitable place for a fledgling writer to spend a weekend. Many a day was spent, swinging my feet over the pier and conjuring up stories as I stared out at the islands. Flasks of lukewarm tea and sandy ham sandwiches on a beach remind me of our younger days, where the summer holidays were spent jumping off the rock on Ballyhealy beach and trying to cycle a bike in flip flops. No matter where I am in the world, fireworks lighting up the sky will transport me back to an October evening on Wexford Harbour as we, in our thousands, welcome another festival of Opera to the town. When I arrive home from travels, I like to come home the coast road. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing Wexford Town from the far side of the bridge – with her twin spires and a reflection of lights on the water. Home is where the heart is, as they say, and my heart is firmly in Wexford.
On local culture
Down this neck of the woods, you never have to go too far before you cross paths with a writer, an artist or a musician. We have a support network that encourages each other and no one bats an eyelid if they spot an artist out at dawn on the quays or a writer scribbling furiously at a table in a coffee shop. We are home to the National Opera House. The Wexford Festival of Opera is now in its 66th year – world renowned. Such is the magic of Wexford, the wife of the late Roald Dahl insisted The Golden Ticket be premiered here in 2010. Our local library is a blessing. It’s a real hub of the community and a great space to work in. Just across the road is our Arts Centre and within those walls, one of my favourite coffee shops in town, D’Lush. Between the Opera House, the Arts Centre and Fusion Café, there is always something to do. The proprietor of Fusion is a huge supporter of creativity and runs exhibitions all year round. Upstairs in Infusion Theatre, I have seen some of the best local talent the town has to offer. Wexford Drama Festival is about to kick off too. I have the absolute honour of opening it this year. It’s made all the sweeter by the fact The Ballycogley Players are doing a play by our own Billy Roche.
My creative space is the kitchen table. That might just kill the image of a nomadic writer locked away in a garret, typing furiously on an old dusty typewriter, but for me, it works. I live in a small three bed semi-d in suburbia and don’t have the luxury of an office or a studio. I have two small boys, Joey (11) and Arthur (3). I work around them, in split shifts, if you like. I have been known to get up early and write for a few hours before they get up – or sit up until an un-godly hour at the laptop. A normal work day for me is dropping the boys to school and Montessori, back home to HQ with a cup of tea in hand. I’ll write until two o’clock. After that, it’s back to mammy mode; homework, housework, laundry and dinner. Once the boys go to bed, I’ll go back to my desk. I think anyone who works from home can identify with that. It takes a lot of discipline and tea! If I need a change of scenery, I will head down to the library or one of the aforementioned coffee shops. If I’m in a real slump, I’ll jump in the car with a take away coffee and go sit on the pier in Kilmore Quay. The sea is my therapy and I’ll never move away from the coast. That said, I love Dublin. Just to walk around and soak up the hustle and bustle of city life. I try to find myself a coffee shop with outdoor seating and I watch the world go by. I’ve become quite the expert at eavesdropping – an essential tool of the trade!
We have two good bookshops in Wexford – Byrnes and The Book Centre. It’s always a joy to pop in there and spend money. They have been incredibly supportive of me as a local author. Anytime I go abroad, I seek out two things; food markets (I love food) and bookshops. Walking into a bookshop gives me a feeling of calm familiarity and when I spot a title I love, it’s like seeing an old friend. I panic, at times, about all the books. There are so many I’ve yet to read and so little time. Rick O’ Shea and the crew in his online book club don’t help matters in this regard. There’s nearly five thousand of us in the group and we are constantly recommending books to each other. I found it a great way to step out of my reading comfort zone. I have a grá for The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar and Dalkey. Bob Johnson runs the shops and is a real ambassador for Irish writers. The Dublin launch for They All Fall Down was in the Gutter Bookshop and was hosted by Rick.
On her nightstand
My To Be Read pile is impossibly long and keeps growing every day. My sitting room is packed high with books and in my bedroom books are stacked into piles in order of priority. As a reader, I will read anything. I love the classics and I love contemporary fiction. I don’t agree with the notion that you are not an ‘accomplished reader’ unless you have read X or Y. Reading is subjective and what resonates with people from each story is unique. The last book I read was Of Mice and Men. It doesn’t need any explanation from me. I am a huge fan of Steinbeck and like any craft, I want to constantly improve. I want to push my boundaries and learn from the masters of my trade. Next up on my list is John McGahern That They May Face the Rising Sun. Sandwiched in between those two are E.M Reapy and Paul Bowles. So many books, so little time!
On Eoin Colfer
Eoin is one of Ireland’s best loved writers. Like John Banville, Colm Tóibín and the other great artists, Eoin, for the last twenty years has been a huge source of inspiration for me. Billy Roche is another one. They paved the way for this generation of writers who have sprung up in Wexford. I’m lucky enough to know both, and it was Eoin who threw me up on the horse. I reluctantly showed him some of my work a few years ago, and he was the one who encouraged me to keep writing. To have that support as a relative newbie is priceless. There are other writers too, who have helped along the way. Peter Murphy, Paul O Brien and Carmel Harrington. They all offered advice and encouragement. And now it’s my turn. I have a stack of reading on my desk – new writers who need a helping hand too. When I finally showed Eoin the manuscript and he really liked it, I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I took his constructive criticism on board and adapted. My style evolved and I started to get better. Eoin did me the honour of launching the book on our home turf and to a full house of fellow Wexfordians. It was surreal having him there and him speaking so highly of me as an author. Those are the moments you never forget.
Don’t miss our next issue, out Saturday March 4.
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