Words In Deep Blue blog tour: Interview with Cath Crowley

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Cath Crowley as part of her blog tour for her new novel, Words In Deep Blue. It's a beautiful, heart-rending novel, and the blurb summarises it better than I possibly could:

Second-hand bookshops are full of mysteries
This is a love story. 
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words. 
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. 
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind. 
Sometimes you need the poets
Yep. It's gorgeous. It's the sort of novel that leaves you wishing the characters - and the world in which they exist, and particularly the bookshop - were real. I love it even better than Cath Crowley's previous novel, Graffiti Moon, which I love a whole lot. If you love books, and bookshops, and letters, and brilliant, beautiful, romantic, heartbreaking Australian contemporary YA (of course you do!), then you will love this novel.

Before I go off on an endless, rambling explanation of why this book is so lovely, here's the interview - it's so inspiring (for me!) to hear about Cath Crowley's inspirations, process and influences... and I hope it is for you, too!


Steph: I read Graffiti Moon back in 2010 and it’s one of my favourite YA novels. So I’ve been very much looking forward to Words In Deep Blue since then – and the wait was definitely worth it. What was your writing process for this novel? How did the novel evolve over time?

Cath: Hi Steph, I’m a great fan of your writing, so that’s a great compliment. Thank you.

The novel certainly changed over time. It always had at its centre the story of Rachel and her brother, Cal, and the importance of words. But originally it was set in a mysterious nightclub. It was about three or four drafts before I decided to set it in Howling Books, and that was the point when the plot felt right. Howling Books felt like a character. Graffiti Moon evolved slowly too. I think that’s just my process.

Steph: Words In Deep Blue is full of literary references – did you draw them from your own favourites, or read and select books especially for your characters to love? What are the books that are most important to you?

Cath: I did choose books that were favourites of mine – I made huge lists of novels that I loved, and the lines that I loved in them. The hard part was working out what to leave out. I knew Great Expectations had to go in because Henry’s father loved Dickens, right from the moment he appeared in the page. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell gave Rachel the idea of transmigration. It’s one of my all time favourites, so I knew that would be in the book. And Henry, right from the moment I wrote him loved Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Steph: The bookstore, Howling Books, is almost a character of its own in the novel, and is the sort of place I wish existed in reality. What inspired the bookstore? Have you been a bookseller yourself, or would you like to be a bookseller? If you owned a bookstore, what would you call it?

Cath: I haven’t been a bookseller. I did a bit of research. In fact, I met my future husband while researching (he’s a writer and a bookseller). He gave me a lot of information about the art of bookselling, although I ignored some of it to write the book. Places like Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne, The Known World Bookshop in Ballarat inspired me. The people who work there love finding things in second-hand books. If I owned a bookstore I think I would call it Howling Books.

Steph: The novel has two narrators and numerous letters by different writers, and the many voices are all authentic and compelling. How did you go about creating the two distinct voices of the protagonists? Do characters come to you full-formed or require development? (I will admit that Henry is my favourite.)

Cath: Henry’s my favourite too He felt right from the start. Rachel took a long time. I think because I’d never felt that level of sustained grief. She didn’t arrive fully until after my father died, and I realised that there’s no one way to grieve. We all go off on our private roads, and so I stopped worrying if Rachel’s grief felt real.

Steph: The letters included throughout the novel were beautiful and tragic and integral to the story. What inspired you to include letters as part of the narrative? Were there any letters that didn’t make the cut? Are you a letter-writer?

Cath: A lot of letters didn’t make the cut. They were hard to include because the narrative didn’t work when it was written solely as letters and having only some letters had the potential to make the narrative feel disconnected. I took a lot of good advice from my editors on what was needed and what wasn’t. I love the idea that we can say quite personal things in a letter – more private than we might speak – and that handwriting makes those conversations personal. I wanted Rachel to reveal herself on the page, the way people in the Letter Library were revealing themselves.

Steph: What inspires your work? Who are the writers and artists you admire? And – finally – what advice would you give to writers looking for inspiration and trying to create meaningful work?

Cath: I admire anyone who finishes a book. Writing is hard. But I particularly admire writers who are taking chances, and trying something new. My advice to writers looking for inspiration is to read widely. Read about the process of other writers. I just finished Charlotte Wood’s The Writing Room. It’s brilliant I know I’ll go back to it again and again, and learn something new about writing every time.


Thank you Cath!

To find out more about Words In Deep Blue, check it out on Pan Macmillan's website. If you're interested in reading the reviews and interviews at other blog tour stops, they're listed below.

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