Catherine Byrne always wanted to be a writer. She began at the age of eight by drawing comic strips with added dialogue and later, as a teenager, graduated to poetry. Her professional life however, took a very different path. She first studied glass engraving with Caithness Glass where she worked for fourteen years. During that time she also worked as a foster parent. After the birth of her youngest child she changed direction, studying and becoming a chiropodist with her own private practice. At the same time she did all the administration work for her husband’s two businesses, and this continued until the death of her husband in 2005. However she still maintained her love of writing, and has had several short stories published in women’s magazines. Her main ambition was to write novels and she has now retired in order to write full time.
Born and brought up until the age of nine on the Island of Stroma, she heard many stories from her grandparents about the island life of a different generation. Her family moved to the mainland at a time when the island was being depopulated, although it took another ten years before the last family left.
An interest in geology, history and her strong ties to island life have influenced her choice of genre for her novels.
Since first attending the AGM of the Scottish Association of Writers in 1999, Catherine has won several prizes, commendations and has been short-listed both for short stories and chapters of her novels. In 2009, she won second prize in the general novel category for ‘Follow The Dove’
In 2016 The Road to Nowhere won second prize in the Barbara Hammond competition for Best Self Published novel. The follow up, Isa’s Daughter won 1st prize in the same competition the following year.
Although the books follow the fortunes of the same family, they are all stand-alone.
The fifth book in the Raumsey series is Mary Rosie’s War.
Catherine Byrne lives in Wick, Caithness.
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Q&A with Catherine
What authors do you enjoy reading? Did any of these inspire your writing?
I read a wide variety of authors. I especially love Peter May and Anne Cleeves. I can’t say they inspired my writing as they write murder mysteries, a different genre, although that was what I originally wanted to do. Maybe next time I’ll have a go.
Another couple of writers I am fond of are Ken Follett and Barbara Erskine. Read all books by them. In between times I make a point of reading self-published authors, and I have found some gems there. I must admit to having a penchant for stories set on islands, and have read all the Isle of Bute mysteries by Myra Duffy.
Why did you choose the particularly period of history that you write about?
I always wanted to write a book set on my native Stroma. A factual book had already been done, so I decided to go for fiction. While I was rifling my brain for a story, an elderly Lady from Canada got in touch. She was doing her genealogy and she couldn’t find any trace of where her grandfather, who had lived on Stroma, died or where he was buried. I did my best to find out for her, but to no avail.
The saga begins in 1899 so obviously I’ve had to do a fair bit of research. However, I was lucky to, not only have been born there, but to have grown up hearing stories from my mother and grandmother of the different generations.
The Canadian lady did, however, give me inspiration for a story, and with her permission, I created two characters based on her grandparents. They got married in 1900, so that was where my series started.
Stroma is a very small Island so, as not to offend anyone, I set my story on a fictional island, Raumsey and used surnames that were never native to Stroma.
Book number one, Follow the Dove, proved to be more popular than I had anticipated, and my fans wanted to know more. Delighted by my relative success, I decided to write a trilogy. Once again, after book three, I was besieged with request to carry on. Subsequently I’ve written another two, Isa’s Daughter and Mary Rosie’s War.
I have also written a couple of other books, Song for an Eagle, a contemporary novella, and a non-fiction about modern day slavery, The Locket and a Five Taka Note.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, do you have particular playlists for particular characters?
No, I don’t. I know many of my writerly friends who do, but I find it distracting. I need quiet to get into my character’s heads. However, a recording of the sea and seabirds sounds like a good idea.
Do you have any tips for writers who are just starting out?
Join a writers’ circle. I have had so much help and support, I don’t think I would have finished my first novel without them. Authors are generally a very helpful bunch, so don’t be afraid to ask. Also be open to criticism, develop a thick skin and always strive for perfection. Most of all, read, read, read and keep writing. Don’t ever give up.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
My other hobby is painting, although I’ve neglected that lately to concentrate on writing. I do always have a book to read at hand, and enjoy my garden. Walking my two dogs gets me out into the fresh air!
I do volunteer work, one day a week in the local hospice shop, watch my granddaughter when needed, and have coffee with friends.