Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.
At what age did you realise writing was going to mean something in your life?
I think I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I realized that actual people were behind the books I loved. I remember being in Senior Infants (age 6-7) and how the teacher used to sit up on her desk to read aloud to us from picture books, holding them facing out to the class so we could see the illustrations. I would go home, line up all my teddybears and Barbie dolls on my bed, climb up onto my dressing table and “read” to them in the same way. So I was making up stories before I could write them down.
Is writing an addiction?
It’s funny because sometimes it feels like it is, and sometimes – like for me at the moment! – it feels more like homework. I once heard another writer say that being a writer is always having homework and I totally relate to that – which is weird, because when I was in school I had a pathological hatred of homework. (I basically never did any!) I think writing something down – be it a blog post or tweeting or keeping a diary – is definitely an addiction, but for me, my novels are my job and that’s work. The best kind of work and a job I love, but still, work!
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
I wish I wrote every day and actually one of my professional goals over the next year is to cultivate a daily writing habit, because I think it would take the ‘specialness’ out of the process then, and I wouldn’t get hung up on finding the perfect music or the right pen or just the right amount of coffee. Right now though, I’m a master procrastinator, so I end up writing in binges. I may not write for days or weeks, and then I’ll sit down and write a few thousand words in half a day.
How do you balance college and other commitments with being a full time writer?
I don’t really! My exams start in two weeks (two days before Distress Signals comes out) and let’s just say I haven’t exactly started studying yet… Moving swiftly on—
You are known as the Queen of Self-Publishing thanks to your success in this field. Tell us about your self-publishing journey?
I never thought I’d self-publish, but back in 2006 I went to work in Walt Disney World in Orlando and discovered, shortly after arriving, that I was utterly underprepared for the move. I started keeping a diary about the experience and after a few months, thought it might be an idea to shape it into a book. I’d never even thought about writing non-fiction but Mousetrapped just naturally happened. When it was rejected all over town – “We enjoyed reading it, but there’s no market for a book like this” – I decided to self-publish it instead. Digital self-publishing was just finding its feet, and I loved the idea that I could have a POD paperback on Amazon without much effort or financial risk on my part. I was doing it, initially, because I thought other people who were going out to Orlando on the same programme as I had might buy it. As it turned out, I was right place/right time and the book began to sell well.
You achieved your ultimate goal of signing a book contract, with your first novel Distress Signals published by Corvus books due out in May 2016. Describe how you felt when you realised you’d gotten a book deal?
Well, it was 12.59pm on Monday March 23rd 2015 (yes, I do know to the minute) and I was getting ready to leave for college – I’d a Romanticism lecture at two. The phone rang and I saw the UK country code, so I figured it was my agent, Jane… BUT my novel had only gone out on submission the previous Thursday and she’d told me it could be months before we heard anything, so I thought she was just calling about something else. When I picked up, she said, “We have an offer.” It was a pre-empt which meant we only had until close of business that day to decide whether or not to take it. It’s funny, because in all the years I imagined the moment, I always burst into tears with the relief. But when it actually happened, I was as cool as a cucumber. I think I didn’t really believe it was happening. I’m not sure I do yet!
Was the editing process difficult?
No, I LOVE editing. I would edit until the cows come home. (It’s the making it up in the first place that I don’t like!) I did two major edits: one with my agent’s in-house editor, Stephanie, and one with my editor at Corvus, Sara. Honestly, I loved it. It made the book better, it helped spark loads of new ideas in me and it’s also an education – you can bring everything you learned into the next book.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
In hindsight, the times in my life when I’ve found it really difficult to add words to whatever project I was working on at the time were the times when I was writing something I shouldn’t been. For instance, for ages I was trying to write a women’s commercial fiction novel because I thought that’s what would get me published – even though I don’t really read that genre and so had no appreciation for how difficult it would be to do it well, with real heart. I’d have, say, 3,000 words to write and I would sit there wondering “What can I make happen that’ll take up 3,000 words to explain?” It was like blood from a stone. But then when I had an epiphany and realised that what I should be writing is what I loved reading – crime/thrillers – it was more like, “How can I fit everything that’s happening here into just 3,000 words?” So, for me, writer’s block is not really about being blocked, it’s an alarm bell sounding about what you’re trying to write.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing the first draft of my second novel, and that’s about all I can say about that for now. Apart from the fact that it’s another standalone thriller, only on dry land this time, and it’ll be published by Corvus/Atlantic this time next year, i.e. May 2017. So I better hurry up and finish it…
Tell us about your social media presence online. How important is it to have a blog or active Twitter account and following?
I think at the end of the day, if you want to be a novelist, you need to write a good book. Whether or not you have a Twitter account is not going to make a difference in whether or not a publisher and then, later on, the reading public want your book. But I love Twitter – and my blog and Facebook and Instagram accounts. They take the solitude out of writing and I’ve made some fabulous real-life writer friends through them. I feel part of something, included. I’ve also discovered so many great books to read through it, just from chatting with other writers and readers. I love it.
What do you like to read?
I read quite widely across fiction and non-fiction, but – of course! – my favourite thing to read are crime novels/thrillers. My faves would be Michael Connelly and Harlan Coben, and more recently Gillian Flynn, Jessica Knoll and Caroline Kepnes. (Obviously, I have a thing for Americans.) I’m also a huge NASA nut so I have a library of Apollo-era astronaut memoirs, and my favourite novel ever – which I re-read every year – is Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. (Yes, really.) I have more, ahem, highbrow faves too: We Need To Talk About Kevin and Big Brother, both by Lionel Shriver; Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro; and The Reader by Bernard Schlink.
Where do you write?
At home – here!
LadyNicci Comment: I attended a workshop with Catherine in 2015 on self-publishing. It wasn’t something I was considering at the time, but I was interested in hearing Catherine speak, and as expected, she was a world of knowledge about the publishing industry and very inspiring. I think Catherine’s path to publication shows how a lot of things have to align for it to be ‘your time’. For a long while she was writing the wrong book. Could you be guilty of this too? Are you so keen to be published that you are trundling down the road with the wrong manuscript for you? It’s interesting that she finds the first draft hard, but the editing a joy. I’m the total opposite. I love her story – of always wanting to be a writer, of self-publishing, and finally getting that phonecall that we all, as writers dream of. ‘We have an offer’. What joy. I hope to see Distress Signals in the hands of commuters, on sun loungers and yes, on cruise ships all this summer. It’s a great read and I think Catherine deserves every success coming her way.
Find out more about Catherine and follow her blog for insider tips on the publishing industry at www.catherineryanhoward.com. She has a great back catalogue of blog posts that are well worth a read for aspiring authors. Catch up with her on Twitter @cathryanhoward
Distress Signals launches in May 2016 and will available in bookshops and on Amazon.
How I write is a blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.