Catherine Cavendish (Cat) first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter—an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.
The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas. Her latest novel is In Darkness, Shadows Breathe—a disturbing tale of two women—strangers whose lives become inextricably entwined in a web of evil that knows no boundaries. Not even time itself.
Out of all the possible ideas in your head, what inspired you to write your latest book?
In Darkness, Shadows Breathe is a novel that has been begging to be written for around five years, but it took a good three years before I felt ready to start working on it in anything more than a few embryonic thoughts. The reason for this hesitation is that there is more of me in this novel than in anything else I have written.
Then, one day, I read an amazing book called Creature, by Hunter Shea—one of my favourite authors. He used a lot of his own experiences and those of his wife, who suffers from a range of severe medical issues, to create a story that, while it is horror, actually made me cry at the end. It stayed with me for days, weeks, and even now I can call it up and it is fresh in my mind.
It was when I finished that book that I thought, now is the time. I’m ready. And that’s when In Darkness, Shadows Breathe was written.
Can you share a snippet that isn’t in the blurb or excerpt?
She unlocked and opened the double doors and peered down at the shrub. The sheet of paper didn’t look like a piece of rubbish. It had been neatly folded and positioned as if it had been deliberately spiked onto the small bush. Lifting it off, she took care not to tear it. In her hand, it seemed old and appeared slightly foxed. Carol went back inside and locked the doors, before returning to the settee where she unfolded her prize.
Lines of a poem, written in an old fashioned script:
In darkness, shadows breathe Though the earth be still, with graves, The mourning yearn for solace And the dead shall hear their cry, Sending spirits on winged flight, To comfort and console, But one among them bides behind, Her soul of ebony and granite, The fires of life long since quenched, Replaced with voids of emptiness. In darkness, shadows breathe And death their only reward. (Lydia Warren Carmody, 1856-1891)
That name. Warren. The same as the Alderman who had laid the foundation stone. Coincidence? Maybe, but somehow Carol couldn’t bring herself to believe so.
More scratching noises. Carol put the sheet of paper aside and returned to the doors.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
Nessa’s cancer. She is the second of the two female protagonists in the story, and she is the one who goes through what I experienced some five and a half years ago. I was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of vaginal cancer and underwent lifesaving—but, nevertheless, life changing—surgery. Poor Nessa gets the same treatment (I am cruel to my protagonists!). Writing those parts of the story brought a lot of memories back to me and that was challenging.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
There are many—depending on the stage of the process. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs is an all too common one. My advice is wherever possible, find a more hardworking verb or noun. All those words (typically ending in ‘ly’ are frequently indicators of lazy writing and also hold up the pace). Head-hopping is another bugbear—keep in one person’s voice for the entire scene. When you want to switch to someone else’s point of view, start a new chapter or insert a paragraph break.
The infamous “info dump” is another trap. You want to get a load of information over to the reader so you write two or three pages of narrative explaining what happened. This should send the majority of your readers safely off to sleep. That’s great if that was your intention, but I bet it wasn’t. You have to use the good old standard ‘show not tell.’ Let the reader see what is happening (or has happened) by using your characters to ‘live’ it in some way so that your readers can experience it for themselves and truly connect with the action. Of course, on closer examination, you may find you don’t need all that back story in the first place and it can sit safely in your plot notes to be drawn on as and when required—if ever.
The above are just a few traps—there are plenty more where they came from. For now, though, remember the old adage, ‘a book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.’ You will need to work through multiple drafts before your story is told in such a way that makes readers want to dive in.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
No. I sometimes hit a bit of a wall, so I stop and think it through. Sometimes I leave it altogether for a few days and read, and watch films. On other occasions, I will work on a short story. The solution usually presents itself before long, even if that means deleting a few thousand words and reworking an idea.
Movie or book?
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
My current work in progress is a novel about a woman (Alli) who is at a bit of a crossroads in her life. She reconnects with an old school friend via social media and goes to stay for a 1960s themed weekend at her ancient and beautiful Canonbury Manor—a former priory in the heart of the English countryside. But this priory has had a chequered history. The monks who lived there for centuries before weren’t the sort you would want to run into at Mass. They were part of a secretive cult—the Cabal of Seraphragius. Alli finds herself caught up between fantasy and reality in the life of a famous folk-rock singer from the late Sixties (Charmian Rand) who was the last owner of this house. But what really happened to Charmian Rand?
Alli finds herself caught between Laurel Canyon in 1968 and Canonbury Manor in the present. The house won’t let her go, and, as she discovers, there is far more to her own life than she had ever dreamed. Meanwhile, deep in the core of the house, evil is at work.
That sounds like a great premise! Can’t wait to see it published! Do you feel women are treated differently in the genre? If so, how?
I must first say that I don’t feel I have been treated any differently—except by having opportunities to participate in Women in Horror Month of course! But, listening to other women’s experiences have informed me that they have had widely differing experiences.
I do know that, traditionally, women have had a hard time getting published as women. One of the most famous examples is of the three Bronte sisters who originally published their work as Action, Currer and Ellis Bell rather than Anne. Charlotte and Emily Bronte. After all, how shocking it would be to find a spinster daughter of a Yorkshire parson writing Wuthering Heights or even Jane Eyre? That would never do!
More recently, and within my own sphere, I know of a lot of women writers who have felt the need to change their identity by using initials rather than a forename. Obviously J.K. Rowling is a classic and famous example of that, when she was told by her publisher (or was it her agent?) that Harry Potter would appeal to boys—but boys wouldn’t read a book obviously written by a woman, so Joanne Rowling became J.K. Rowling. Maybe younger boys don’t mind as much—Enid Blyton was popular with both sexes when I was a young child.
In the few years I have been around the horror scene, I have been treated equally, with respect, and have both male and female regular readers—to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude.
Who are your favorite women writing in the genre?
I am bound to get into trouble here for leaving people out—because, thankfully, right now there are an increasing number of amazing and diverse women writers.
Among my current favourites are: Susan Hill, J.H. Moncrieff, P.D. Cacek, Gaby Triana, Priya Sharma, Cate Gardner, Faye Snowden, Melissa Prusi, Somer Canon, V. Castro, but I’m adding to the list all the time.
A great big thanks to Cat for her time and sharing her thoughts and experiences! Be sure to add her latest Flame Tree Press release to your library!
In Darkness, Shadows Breathe (Fiction Without Frontiers) by Catherine Cavendish
“[…] if there is a crown of queen of gothic horror, [Catherine Cavendish] should be wearing it.” — Modern Horrors
Carol and Nessa are strangers but not for much longer.
In a luxury apartment and in the walls of a modern hospital, the evil that was done continues to thrive. They are in the hands of an entity that knows no boundaries and crosses dimensions – bending and twisting time itself – and where danger waits in every shadow. The battle is on for their bodies and souls and the line between reality and nightmare is hard to define.
Through it all, the words of Lydia Warren Carmody haunt them. But who was she? And why have Carol and Nessa been chosen?
The answer lies deep in the darkness…
Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.