INTERVIEW: Catherine Hokin

If you were lucky enough to hear Catherine Hokin at the Audacious Women Festival, you already know she is a powerhouse of Medieval Historical Fiction.  With a particular interest in the hidden female voice, Catherine studied women and the role of political propaganda, and witchcraft during her History Degree. No stranger to the writer's sphere, Catherine was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition, has been published in IScot Magazine, and blogs regularly for The History Girls.

We caught up with Catherine this week to find out about her  debut novel, Blood and Roses.

1. Tell us about why you started writing, and the inspiration behind your most recent book, Blood and Roses

Like a lot of avid readers, I have always wanted to write and it is something I have done a lot of in various jobs along the way but always non-fiction. I got a chance to carve out some real as opposed to snatched fiction writing time about 4 years ago and jumped on it! Blood and Roses (my debut novel) stems from an obsession with the Wars of the Roses which goes back far too far to share with you and a fascination with Margaret that kicked off when I was studying history at university. I do like battles and feisty women whose reputations have been a bit messed up.

2. What is your favourite characteristic of Margaret of Anjou?

Her determination which is probably both her best and her worst feature. She made tough decisions in tough times because she believed in the justness of her cause and knew she had the skills needed to fight for it, even when those weren’t the skills she was expected to have as a woman. She did make some bad choices but I’ve never been a fan of perfect people – they aren’t interesting..

3. How important is it to you that the female characters in your short stories are interpreted as strong by readers? 

I think it is more important that they are interpreted as plausible and interesting. Strength is very subjective – Alice Morgan in Stolen Moments is very strong but not in a good way, Margaret in Blood and Roses is strong because she has to be and is perhaps too strong. For both these women, other people pay the price of their strength.

4. You've won a number of prizes for your writing, including runner up in the 2014 Prolitzer Prize, do you think taking part in competitions is important for young writers?

I think it is important for anyone trying to learn more about the craft which is how I approach them. If possible I always pay for the critique – the feedback is always good and I know my stories (and novels) go through lots of drafts before they work and sometimes you get too close to your own writing. I always act on the comments. Getting placed is great validation but you have to be realistic – I’ve had a story come nowhere in one competition and then win another so you can’t judge yourself by this kind of success/failure! I’m a fan of submitting more than competing if that makes sense – get yourself out there.

5. What advice would you give young writers, looking for a way into historical fiction?

Young or old, read the genre – if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be writing it which is probably the yardstick for all writing. And choose a time period you really care about it – you need to write 4 books in a set (time period) so if you hate the Romans do not write about the Romans! You also need to love research, you will spend a lot of time doing it and I mean a lot.

6. What are you currently reading?

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch – I’m writing a book about obsession so I’m reading lots of obsessed books.

7. What should we expect to see next from you?

More tricky women! My second novel, set in the 14 th century, is with my agent and she is doing her thing with that while I get on with my 3 rd which is set in the 12 th century. So, medieval for a while. For short stories I’m playing around with magical realism and submitting with crossed fingers.

8. Who is your favourite WIFIE?

I usually judge that by who I’d like to go out on the lash with, to use another favourite phrase, which means someone gobby, political, funny and a feminist. On that basis my current favourite would have to be Meryl Streep but can I also take Tina Fey and Amy Poehler? That would be a bit of a night I think.

Interview by Rachel Morgan-Bruce