Writer Wednesday: Catherine Hokin

Catherine is a Glasgow-based author whose fascination with the medieval period began during a History degree which included studies into witchcraft, women and the role of political propaganda. This kick-started an interest in hidden female voices which resulted in her debut novel, Blood and Roses. The novel brings a feminist perspective to the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, wife of Henry VI) and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses, exploring the relationship between Margaret and her son and her part in shaping the course of the bloody political rivalry of the fifteenth century.

Catherine also writes short stories - she was 3rd prize winner in the 2015 West Sussex Writers Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic. In her spare time she listens to loud music, watches far too many movies and tries to remember to talk to her husband and children. Catherine is represented by Tina Betts of the Andrew Mann Literary Agency.

1.Why did you want to become a writer?
I love stories: I have always been an avid reader and a maker-up of worlds. Since I was a child I’ve been a people-watcher (ie. really nosey) and I would concoct stories in my head around anyone whose appearance/snatched snippets of conversation intrigued me. I still do it now – it’s where my short story ideas come from. I wasn’t a writer as a child, I tended to draw people in their imaginary worlds, but I began experimenting with writing scenarios and character sketches in my early 30s and I got the bug. It just took rather longer than I expected to find the time to find my voice!

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
Redrafting can be tough. It has to be a brutal process – you must be able to recognise where the draft you have spent months on is under or (in my case) over written and where the plot stupidities and character inconsistencies come and deal with it. Which could mean chucking a lot of work. First you have to be your own most critical reader and then you have to find someone else you can trust (before submission) to read it and not be kind – you simply can’t see all the flaws yourself. And waiting – that’s horrible! Writers do a lot of waiting - my second book is now with my agent and being sent out to new publishers which is nerve-wracking.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
To be honest, pretty much all of it! I have to do a lot of research which I love – I am more than happy to spend my day immersed in strange medieval byways finding things I didn’t even know I was looking for. I also love it when a plot idea starts to take off and threads inter-connect and when you get to the point with characters where you start saying ‘but they wouldn’t do that’ which means they have become real. You have to enjoy your own company: you can be as active on social media as you want and go to as many writing groups as you like but, if you really want to write, it’s about you and your desk, for long stretches of time. I don’t mind that but I do worry my social skills will collapse given I spend most of my day talking to dead people!

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Such a hard question – I could go for a classic like Jane Eyre or something more modern like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and a hundred in between! However, if I had to pick one I would choose One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I am a huge fan of magical realism and this novel is the genre’s pinnacle. It is an insane read – I’ve read it at least three times and taught it and I’m still finding new things. The cast of characters is huge and they all pretty much have the same name, the narrators are profoundly unreliable, time is a completely fluid notion and it is impossible in places to know whether you are in the real world or a magical one. If you haven’t read it, please do – it will be some of the best prose you have ever lost yourself in.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
I wouldn’t save any of them! The main character in Blood and Roses, Margaret of Anjou, lived in a very turbulent time and met with some very tough challenges – some of these of her own making. Awful things happen to her but, if I rescued her I would be historically inaccurate (unforgivable) and I would lose the things that make her fascinating. With Margaret’s story I was trying to explain how she got into the situations which led to calamity. In my second novel, also based round a cast of real people, I deliberately put them into calamitous situations to explain some of their actions – like a lot of medieval history, we often know the deeds but we don’t know the reasons. I’m interested in the process of how people get themselves into the positions they do – I’m not there to save them.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I love this question! My problem is that a lot of characters in the books I love drive me up the wall. Jane Eyre is a brilliant book but who would want to spend the day with her? Mrs Rochester, on the other hand, might be quite entertaining. I’m going to choose two: the Chance sisters from Angela Carter’s wonderful Wise Children. Dora and Nora are twins who have a long and very dubious theatrical career from movie halls and burlesque to early Hollywood. They are fabulous, unrepentantly naughty and still dressing in sequins in their 70s. I think I would like to go down memory lane with them, starting with a champagne brunch at somewhere glitzy (the Savoy would work) and involving the cinema (Ab Fab would suit them down to the ground) and the theatre (something a bit disreputable so perhaps Dominic Cooper in The Libertine) with a bit of shopping thrown in (I can definitely see them running riot in Alexander McQueen). I sense I would come away with the plots for a dozen novels and a very sparkly hangover – I just hope someone else is paying.

7. What can we expect next from you?
My second novel is completed and with my agent, a sentence both exciting and terrifying as I have no idea at this stage where or when it will be picked up. It is set in the 14 th century and is about the 30 year relationship between John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III and Katherine Swynford. Plague, revolting peasants, a mad monk and an even madder king. I’m really proud of it – everything is crossed.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
The best bit of advice I got was to take writing very seriously – treat it like a job. In other words it needs time and discipline, you have to give it a lot of space and work hard at learning the craft, at every step. That sounds obvious but it can be hard to do in reality. My first novel took nearly three years to complete as I was fitting it round multiple demands. The second took less time because the youngest is now at university and I have clawed back breathing space! I keep office hours on writing days and I set goals to keep me on track. My advice to anyone starting out would be to get good at social media long before you get published – choose a couple of formats you are happy with, get a website together and make relationships. No matter who you end up being, no one cares more about your book than you so you are its mouthpiece. Just remember to avoid over self-promoting your book: be interesting and people will get there.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
Office hours, I’m usually at my desk by nine and wrap up about 6. I’m still promoting book one so it will be admin for the first couple of hours, then I like to research in the morning and write in the afternoon after I’ve been for a walk to clear my head, I’ve been taking a camera out with me a lot lately. I need the walking time for research ideas to settle and start connecting. I have a reading corner as well as my writing desk which works for me – I can’t read unless I’m curled up. I try to vary what I’m doing – I use Pinterest a lot to pull ideas together for example and have notice boards covered in character and plot maps. And I stare out of the window, a lot.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I have just finished The Penny Heart by Martine Bailey – it’s wonderful, Fay Weldon described the style as Culinary Gothic which fits it perfectly. I think it’s my book of the year. I got the chance to interview Martine recently for my website and she is really interesting – go read my interview with her now you’ve read this!


1460 The English Crown – a bloodied, restless prize. 

The one contender strong enough to hold it? A woman. Margaret of Anjou: a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, shackled to a King lost in a shadow- land. 

When a craving for power becomes a crusade, when two rival dynasties rip the country apart in their desire to rule it and thrones are the spoils of a battlefield, the stakes can only rise. And if the highest stake you have is your son? 

You play it. 

Portraying the dynastic struggles of the Wars of the Roses as a medieval House of Cards, debut novelist Catherine Hokin re-interprets the story of Margaret of Anjou as a feminist re- telling of one of the bloodiest periods of English history. In a powerful revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare, Blood and Roses examines Margaret as a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. As Margaret desperately tries to stave off the judgement of history by writing her own truth—a desire she knows is almost certainly doomed – she unfolds a web of intrigue, shifting alliances and secrets and reveals herself as a woman forced to play the highest stakes to pull a throne from the spoils of the battlefield.

A key issue for historians has been the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her husband Henry IV (who suffered from what has been described as narcolepsy, resulting in long periods of what are best described as coma) and the paternity of her son, born 8 years into what was a seemingly barren marriage. Blood and Roses offers a solution to the paternity question rooted in Margaret’s political acumen and her relationship with Jacquetta Woodville – a friendship which ended in a betrayal that has never been fully explored.

This is a novel about power: winning it, the sacrifices made for it and its value. It is also a novel about a woman out of her time, playing a game ultimately no one can control.

Follow Catherine on Twitter | Buy Blood and Roses on Amazon |
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