An Interview with Cathy Glass
15 Mar 2009
Cathy Glass is probably the most successful current writer of inspirational memoir . In this Q&A she explains why she writes and the reaction to her books.
What inspired you to write your books’?
I have always written – right from when I was at school, with poems in the school magazine. In my teens I progressed to short stories and articles etc. Damaged (published Feb 2007) was my first ‘fostering memoir’, where I told the story of one of the children I’d looked after. At the time, writing Damaged was purely cathartic - I hadn’t thought about finding a publisher. Jodie (the child in the book) had left such a legacy with me because of her suffering and vulnerability that I needed to write it out. I was also incensed that the system had failed Jodie so badly, just as I knew it was failing many others.
You say on your website you have fostered over fifty children. How do you choose which of the children’s stories to tell?
Each child I foster arrives with his or her own very sad story, but many of the children have had similar experiences and conform to ‘a norm’. I therefore chose one child whose story is representative of a group; is of interest to readers, and has something to say about our society and the way we protect (or fail to protect) our children. In Hidden, for example, I told the story of Tayo who had been smuggled into the country illegally, and had remained undetected by the authorities for 5 years.
How would you describe your style of writing?
I write in first person using a dramatic narrative style – as a thriller writer, where the plot unfolds. Readers tell me they feel very involved and ‘get carried along’. They say they feel as though they are there with me as the drama progresses and ‘can’t put the book down.’
When do you write your books?
Very early in the morning – sometimes I am up at 4.30am. When I write the first draft I have to have absolute quiet to be able to concentrate, and in my house very early in morning is the only time quiet is guaranteed. When I am revising, editing, or proof-reading I tend to fit it in around the rest of the day – grabbing an hour here and there. I always write the first draft on paper with a pen, then edit and revise on screen.
Your books have been continuously in the best seller charts. What response have you had from your readers?
I have been completely overwhelmed by the response, and very touched by the public’s empathy and support. Within a week of the publication of my first book - Damaged, the letters and emails began pouring in, and they have continued to do so, three books later. Many of the emails are personal and for my eyes only – coming from readers who also suffered as children, but for those who want their views made public, the emails are posted on the blog on my website. I read all emails (and letters) personally, and I reply to as many as I can. People of all ages write - my youngest reader to date is 12 and my eldest is 87. My readers come from all walks of life and professions, but are united in their need to write and tell me how moved they were by the stories; that they greatly admire the children’s courage, and how incensed they were that these children were allowed to suffer in the first place.
What are you writing now, or what have you just finished?
I have just completed two books: a sixth fostering memoir – A Dreadful Mistake, and also a guide to bringing up children, aptly name Happy Kids. Many readers commented on the way I handled children’s (often difficult) behaviour and it occurred to me that while I had the benefit of on-going training in child management skills, and had also had plenty of children to practice these skills on, most parents, chid-care workers etc hadn’t, so this is a practical guide, with lots of useful techniques for raising or caring for children.
Given the dramatic story-lines in your books, are there any plans to turn your books into films?
My agent has received a number of enquires but there is nothing definite yet. It would be fantastic if the lives of the children I have written about, and those with similar stories, were immortalised on the big screen.
What advice would you give to those wishing to write?
Begin – with what is in your head and simply write. You can worry about grammar and spelling later, when you edit. Get down that first draft, which will be immediate, passionate, but very very rough. Then polish and shine until you are convinced your work is word perfect. It won’t be; it never is, but don’t ever submit anything which is not your personal best. Listen carefully to advice but don’t feel obliged to always take it. If you have the courage of your convictions others will too.