As a writer, you must fall in love with the idea of the book in your head.
It’s hard to describe this process to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
It isn’t anything like the white heat of inspiration that new writers sometimes anticipate.
So much of writing is perspiration rather than inspiration. But the idea of the book must excite you as much at the end of the work as it does at the beginning.
And make no mistake, there will be work. Twenty or more drafts is not out of the ordinary.
It can be exhausting, it can be irritating, it can even be superficially boring. But through all that, you never quite lose the sense of excitement. And that means that you are able to live with an idea for a very long time, even through fatigue and disappointment, even while you are working on other creative projects.
The Curiosity Cabinet is one of those stories that I fell in love with.
A young, divorced woman called Alys revisits the beautiful Hebridean island of Garve after an absence of twenty five years to find herself captivated by an ancient embroidered casket on display in her hotel. Alys discovers that it belongs to Donal, her childhood playmate, and they resume their old friendship.
Interwoven with the story of Alys’ and Donal’s growing love is the much darker tale of Henrietta Dalrymple, kidnapped by the formidable Manus McNeill and held on Garve against her will.
In The Curiosity Cabinet I am telling a love story, but one in which – without it being an overt ghost story – the tragedies of the past needed to be resolved in the present.
The Curiosity Cabinet has an interesting history to it. It was actually commissioned and broadcast as a trilogy of plays for BBC Radio 4. While writing the plays, I found myself thinking ‘This would make a good novel.’ So not long after the plays had been broadcast, I set about converting the plays.
What was my inspiration for the story?
Years earlier, I had read about the 18th century Lady Grange, kidnapped to a remote Scottish island at the instigation of her husband and his Jacobite friends. (Scottish journalist Margaret Macaulay has just written an excellent new history of the real Lady Grange: Prisoner of St Kilda.)
Lady Grange’s plight was one source of inspiration but there was another. While I had been working on a mammoth radio dramatisation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Catriona, I fell madly in love with Jacobite hero, Alan Breck Stewart. So it’s no coincidence that one of the main characters in The Curiosity Cabinet is a small but fierce Gaelic speaking man whom one would rather call a friend than an enemy!
The Curiosity Cabinet was well received when it first came out. It was one of three books shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize that year, and was published in 2005 by Edinburgh based Polygon. Distinguished Scottish writer John Burnside called it a ‘powerful story about love and obligation…a persuasive novel, very well written’ which was praise indeed, coming from such a source.
When The Curiosity Cabinet went out of print, I asked for a rights reversion, and Polygon was very accommodating. Now, on the advice of my agent, I’ve released it onto Amazon’s Kindle.
For the Kindle edition, there’s a new cover, beautifully made by my friend, textile artist Alison Bell (www.alisonbell.co.uk ) who interprets her personal response to the book as follows:
The narrative works on many layers of memory and time, some hazy, some forgotten, but the island’s presence is constant, as a refuge and a place to grow and start afresh. I wanted the colours to be soft, subtle, muted, with hints of turquoise, like the sea up there. It is a gentle book which drifts into the mind’s eye as each chapter unfolds.
So where next? Well, my agent is sending out a Polish themed historical novel called the Amber Heart and I’m just finishing a new novel called The Physic Garden, set in early nineteenth century Glasgow. But I have another Scottish novel fully edited and ready to go. It’s a tale of obsessive love and loss, called Bird of Passage. I’d be the first to admit that it’s something of a ‘homage’ to Wuthering Heights, and indeed it has been described as ‘Wuthering Heights meets The Bridges of Madison County’! I’m planning to simply get it out there as an eBook in good time for Christmas.
It seems to me that writers, perhaps women writers in particular, are squeezed by the publishing industry into ever narrower genres. I enjoy a well written crime or romance or fantasy novel as much as the next woman. But it may be that as writers, we want to be able to write outside our genre from time to time, and it may be that as readers, we love a particular writer’s voice, but we may not necessarily want to hear her telling the same kind of story every single time. For many of us seeking a little more freedom, eBooks offer a viable alternative.
I love paper books and will never stop buying them, but I love my Kindle too, and now, I find myself enjoying the unprecedented sense of control it gives me as a writer, not to mention the variety it gives me as a reader. Long may that sense of empowerment continue.
Catherine Czerkawska has written novels and television series, radio dramas and stage plays for theaters.
Subscribe to Catherine Czerkawska’s blog: http://wordarts.blogspot.com
or her textile history blog at http://thescottishhome.blogspot.com
Catherine blogs monthly on Do Authors Dream of Electric Books - a group of like-minded and experienced authors who are publishing their work in eBook form. She is a regular contributor to an online magazine called The Scottish Review
Also see her interview on Write Words.org.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Catherine Czerkawska is a widely published writer of novels, short stories, poems and award winning plays for the stage and for BBC Radio 4.
Her Scottish historical novel the Curiosity Cabinet (Polygon 2005) was one of three finalists for the Dundee Book Prize. It is now available as a download from Amazon’s Kindle Store.
Her non-fiction book, God’s Islanders, a major hardback study of the history of the Isle of Gigha, was published by Birlinn in November 2006. She has just completed two new novels. The Amber Heart, loosely based on episodes from her own Polish family history, is a vivid and dramatic story of personal tragedy and triumph, set against the background of a turbulent time and place, while The Summer Visitor (soon to be released onto Kindle) is a homage to Wuthering Heights, a disturbing tale of cruelty, loss and enduring love, set in rural Scotland and Ireland
Her blog is at http://wordarts.blogspot.com