Monday, 9 July 2012

An Interview with Cathie Dunn

Today I am delighted to have the wonderful Cathie Dunn, historical fiction and romantic suspense author over for a chat.

Welcome, Cathie, can you tell us what or who inspires your writing?

Thank you, Mandy, for hosting me today. I’m thrilled to be here.

From an early age onwards, I’ve devoured books. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Adventure series and loved Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (and her independence). Their books inspired my love of adventures.

Later, I discovered the romantic suspense novels of Victoria Holt and Barbara Erskine, the dramatic novels of Daphne du Maurier and the wonderfully exotic historical novels by M M Kaye. By that time, I knew I wanted to write, and historical and romantic suspense / adventure was to be ‘my’ genre.

Have you always written or is it a more recent development?

I started jotting down ‘ideas’ in my late teens, half-hearted attempts that ended up in a drawer. I nagged my mother into buying me a used typewriter and the stories developed. For many years, I didn’t do much more about them, until, in my late 20s, I started all over again. Since then, I’ve completed a Creative Writing course at Lancaster University, as well as short historical courses at other universities. I joined writing and critique groups and learned the value of peer feedback and support, and their brutal honesty. It helped hone my skills in terms of both writing and critical editing.

Which do you enjoy most and why, historical fiction or romantic suspense?

I love both, in different ways, both as a writer and reader. Historical fiction allows you to focus primarily on historical events - both real and fictional. I love writing about political issues, battles and campaigns; I find them fascinating to research. My favourite authors in that field are Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick.

In romantic suspense, you focus less on the secondary events, but instead on the characters and the intrigue. As a reader, you ‘feel’ the story more, you sense the tension, you experience what the characters go through. You find yourself reading faster and faster, keen to get through it to know what’s about to happen. In writing romantic suspense, you ‘show’ more than you do in generic historical fiction.

Your most recent work is the romantic suspense novella Silent Deception, can you tell us a little about that and where it's available?

Back in early May, I spotted a call for submissions for suspense novellas from a major romance publisher. The deadline was two weeks later. I took the challenge.

Trying my best, I managed a first draft in that time, but it wasn’t anywhere near the standard I’d wanted to submit. So I decided to self-publish the novella, re-wrote it, ran it past my critique partners who duly tore it to shreds, and eventually I ended up with a version I was happy with.

Silent Deception is a romantic suspense set in Victoria Cornwall, the first time I used a location I haven’t visited. Yet. The novella is currently available as an ebook on Amazon only.

What is the most useful piece of advice you have ever been given in life, regarding writing or anything else?

What an interesting question. I think it would be: ‘Be true to yourself.’ This can be taken both for life in general as well as for writing.

I’ve seen writers change their style to try fit into a specific publisher’s box, only to fail again and again. Sometimes, you can’t force it. If it doesn’t sound like your natural voice, it doesn’t ring true. Go back, start again, and listen to your intuition. Often, writers can find their inspiration again and discover a small change can make a difference.

What is the one piece of useful advice you would give to an aspiring writer?

Don’t give up! This business can break you, so you’ll need to develop a thick skin. (I know, easier said than done. I’ve been there.) Not finding the right publisher, low sales, poor reviews all put a damper on our feeling of proud achievement as our book is released.

Provided you novel is well-written, edited many times over, proofread, with a quality cover and interesting plot, you should not feel bad about it at all. It’s an incredible feat, so continue to feel proud about it.

Over the years, I’ve heard many writer friends ask: ‘What’s the point? I might just as well give up.’
My response to that is: ‘You love to write? People enjoy to read your books? Then that’s all that matters.’

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m currently working on two projects. One is a medieval Scottish romance novella, the other a full-length contemporary suspense set in Idaho, US. Switching from historical to contemporary has its challenges, but I’m ready to face them. And then, of course, I must get to the sequel to Dark Deceit.

Busy days and nights ahead.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Cathie!

 Thanks very much for having me here today. 


  1. Great interview, Mandy, and a good way for me to learn more about a new writer friend! ;-)

    I'm a Sharon Penman fan, too, particularly The Sunne in Splendour.

    'Be true to yourself' is a critical point. I believe a writer can only write superbly if her heart and soul are in her work; anything else will be lacklustre and will not be engaging for the reader. Just my humble opinion!

    I'll be checking out Cathie's Amazon links. :)

    1. Thank you, Joanna. I love The Sunne in Splendour, although my favourite is When Christ and His Saints Slept. My historical, Dark Deceit, is set in the same, fascinating era.

      I agree with you. If a writer doesn't engage heart and soul, the result leaves the reader wanting.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    2. Thank you Joanna. I always find it fascinating to see what makes an author 'tick'! :)

  2. Hello, to both ladies. Like Joanna, I've learned a little more of Cathie, today too. Thank you, Mandy. I've already got Silent deception on my kindle, and now need to zoom through my TBR pile to have it be next! (Maybe I'll skip the queue?)

    1. Very kind of you, Nancy. Thank you. I hope you'll enjoy.

      Thanks for popping in.

  3. Very interesting and different interview that shows another point of view to readers. A writer's life isn't as easy as it would seem. It has its ups and downs and it's fragile.

    I'm an avid reader of historical's and I'm a fan of Cathie Dunn, I've been from the start.
    She has the knack for mixing fiction and history and for creating her own special world, a world that gives me pleasure and makes me forget everything else around me. Her descriptions and my imagination work wonders each and every time.

    ‘Be true to yourself.’ is a wonderful idea and this should be everybody's motto, but then life passes by ...

    1. That's a fantastic comment, Black Tulip - thank you :)

    2. Thank you, BlackTulip. Yours is the kind of reaction I'd hoped to achieve, the type every writer prays for. I'm delighted you enjoy my stories.

      Thanks for stopping by here.