This week, the featured author on my Writers In Ireland series is Catherine Kullmann. Born and educated in Dublin, following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. She is married and has three adult sons and two grandchildren.
Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.
Catherine’s debut novel, The Murmur of Masks, was short-listed for the 2017 CAP Awards (Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors). Her latest novel, A Suggestion of Scandal, was released on 1 August 2018.
Welcome, Catherine, and congratulations on the publication of A Suggestion of Scandal. Can you give us a snapshot of what it is about?
When governess Rosa Fancourt surprises two lovers in flagrante delicto, her life and future are suddenly at risk. Even if she escapes captivity, the mere suggestion of scandal is enough to ruin a lady in her situation. In Sir Julian Loring she finds an unexpected champion but will he stand by her to the end?
What inspired you to write this story?
The initial impulse came from a notorious Regency divorce case that was triggered when a governess surprised her employer with her lover, her hand inside his military pantaloons. The lovers made no attempt to hide their guilt but I began to wonder what if they had tried to do so. What would have happened to the inconvenient witness?
Tell me more about your interest in the Regency genre?
It is the period rather than the genre that attracts me. The first quarter of the nineteenth century was one of the most significant periods of European and American history; an era whose events still resonate two hundred years later. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 all still shape our modern world. But the aristocracy-led society that drove these events was already under attack from those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies. It was still a patriarchal world where women had few or no rights but they lived and loved and died, making the best lives they could for themselves and their families, often with their husbands away for years with the army or at sea. And they began to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation. It interests me to explore women’s lives in particular against this background. It is not so long since many of these restrictions, whether legal or social, still applied in Ireland. It is important to realise how far we have come, and also to be aware that that which was gained can also be lost.
Do you think that authors should stick to writing in one genre only?
Authors should follow their muse wherever she leads them. They should not shy away from challenges and be willing to accept commissions if they are prepared to put the time and effort into them. Good writing is as much craft as art. Although I only started writing fiction after I retired, in my professional life I wrote a lot and rarely had a choice of subject. I learnt to express myself as clearly and as elegantly as possible. I don’t see why an author should not write in one genre for their bread and butter and in another for their jam, for example, or write in various genres as the stories come to them. It may make it less easy to build a brand and, if they are writing in two conflicting genres, it might be advisable to use a pen-name for one of them, but if they feel the urge to try a new genre, they should go do so.
Did anyone – famous or not – inspire you to write?
I was introduced to the extended Regency period not only by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but also by the great essayists such as Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, and the romantic poets—Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley. All of them have inspired and influenced my writing, as have the great military diarists and auto-biographers of the day such as Harry Smith and Kincaid of the Rifles. Print was the only mass medium then and there is a wealth of contemporary writing from that time. The print shops also thrived; thousands of hand-coloured engravings – fashion prints, caricatures, illustrations, portraits—have survived and are tangible reminders of the period. I now have a considerable research library to which I add constantly and any free space between the bookcases is hung with prints from the time.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
About a year, excluding breaks. I like to set an almost completed work aside for several months and then look at it with a fresh eye. Apart from A Suggestion of Scandal, I have a novella, The Duke’s Regrets, and another novel, The Potential for Love, more or less ready for publication and plan to release them next year. In the meantime I shall start on a new book to be published in 2020.
Do you write every day, Catherine? If so, how is your writing day structured?
I write almost every day. I started writing after I took early retirement and I am usually at my desk by eleven a.m. at the latest. I work until lunch-time and, again in the afternoon for three to four hours. Work includes writing, research and marketing. The amount of time spent on any one of these activities depends on where I am in a new book. As I write this, I have a new release due next week so marketing and promotion is a priority at the moment.
And your thoughts on social media for authors and marketing?
As an indie author, marketing is part of my job description and I find social media invaluable. But they are not only useful marketing tools. Writing is a lonely business and it is wonderful to have access to the various online communities of writers who are, in general, very supportive.
Which leads me to my next question – your opinion of the current business of publishing?
I am indie published—my books do not fit comfortably in current genres, falling, I am told, between the stools of historical fiction and historical romance. I call them historical women’s fiction. The protagonists are fictional but they live in an authentic historical world and their behaviour, attitudes, morals etc. reflect this. The stories are relationship-driven—I like to consider what happens when life gets in the way of love—and I feel a happy end has to be earned. To come back to your question, I think that the decisions of many of today’s publishers are both genre- and formula-driven. For example, at a recent workshop on pitching to agents, participants were advised to compare their books with recent debut authors in the genre, as publishers tended to want more of the same. Indie writers have more freedom when it comes to genres and topics.
And finally, Catherine, would you like to share with us what you are working on now?
I am at the very beginning of a new book, still at that stage where wisps of ideas are coming together. It is the story of a woman who deliberately breaks society’s rules and the consequences for her and her family.