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Book Who's Talking...Catherine Chanter

Wednesday 18th Mar 2015

Danielle Culling

Book Who's Talking...Catherine Chanter

Here we are again, back with another Book Who’s Talking, and what a cracker we have for you this week as we hear from debut author Catherine Chanter. Left, right and centre she is being tagged as one to watch as this thrilling novel is flying off the shelves. I was lucky enough to receive a proof of The Well and knew to expect great things when I saw that Jessie Burton, author of my love – The Miniaturist, said that she had raced through it.


It is a chilling tale of a country stricken by drought. Our protagonist is finding herself to be an exception to the rest of the population as her home and land, The Well, remain something of an oasis, with rainfall arriving each night. What seems like a blessing soon turns out to be their ruin as the family turn in on themselves and the seemingly precious water cruelly takes away the most precious thing in her life.


After racing through the novel and bounding into work to appeal for an event to be held with Catherine (I got my wish, hurrah! See details at the end of the interview, and also some information about how you could get involved in the event!) I knew I had to ask her to be part of Book Who’s Talking, as I love the insight we get from authors about the books they have enjoyed (You may be beginning to think that Book Who’s Talking is a way for me to find out more about authors I love and...well, you would be completely right!)


Catherine kindly agreed to take part, so it has come to that time where you need to settle back, grab a cuppa – do you have a biscuit as well? Good, let’s go…


1)    If you were to be stuck in a lift for three hours with any character from literature, who would it be?


It would be the whiskey priest from The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene.    Nothing to do with the whisky - and the red wine was all gone within hours of him having purchased it, so not that either.    There is something about an anonymous man who demands a meeting.  And on top of that, I think I might get on better with an antihero, we might have more in common.  Then there’s the question of what happened when he finally met the God with whom he had struggled for so long.  Was it worth it?  Was he right?  We could talk a bit about Mexico (I’ve just returned from visiting my daughter in the Yucatan), but most important, I would like the chance to tell him that I thought he was magnificent.  


2)    What was the last book that produced an out pouring of emotion in you? A snort of laughter or tears into a handkerchief?


The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.   I found it unbearably sad at times.  Even before I started reading it, I was moved by the author’s account that his father had died the day he wrote the last sentence of what was, at least in part, his story.   After that, there were different types of sadness:  the hollow feeling of what might have been in the love affair between Dorrigo and Amy; the sheer horror of the railway; the heart-wrenching death of Darky Gardiner; the little things like the image of Biggelow, at the end, with his trumpet.  No novel could be great with an unremitting menu of sadness.  There is poetry, insight, heroism, beauty.  And, in keeping with all great literature that moves us, nothing was gratuitous, nothing was imposed. 


3)    Which book do you really wish you had written?!


The Four Quartets, by T S Eliot.  Every single line of it.  In fact I’d probably be happy if I had only written a couple of lines.   There are two reasons, both quite different.   The first is that I am in total awe of the poetry, Eliot’s ‘raid on the inarticulate,’ through each chosen word, the music, the imagery, the rhythm, the structure.  I can return to this poem again and again, in fact it might well be my desert island choice (along with The Bible and Shakespeare, of course).   When I am abroad, it evokes England so strongly I can almost smell the fields:


‘ Now the light falls

Across the open field,, leaving the deep lane

Shuttered with branches,;


but equally, if I am at home, it takes me to places beyond myself in terms of time, place and meditation.   


The second reason for the choice is that I would love to have been the poet who  found the way through the dull depression of Prufrock, deep into the despair of The Wasteland and finally reached that position of total faith that ‘All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’



4)    What book did you make your parents read and re read to you when you were younger?


I am not sure when my parents introduced me to Now We Are Six by A A Milne, or whether in fact they were forced to re read it endlessly to me, but however it happened, the Charcoal Burner was embedded in my mind from an early age. 


The Charcoal Burner has tales to tell.

He lives in the forest,

alone in the forest;

he sits in the forest,

alone in the forest.


And he sits and thinks of the things they know,

he and the forest, alone together -

the springs that come and the summers that go

autumn dew on bracken and heather,

the drip of the forest beneath the snow...


oh, the Charcoal Burner has tales to tell!

and he lives in the forest and knows us well.


And that is, quite genuinely, from memory, fifty years later (I do know there are bits missing, there always were.)  At the top of the lane where we lived once there were some pine trees, silhouetted black and beautiful at the end of the day and there was always an owl there.  For some unknown reason, I thought the charcoal burner lived there, although he was understandably shy - which was I never met him.



5)    What one passage from any book you have read has always stuck with you and why?


The opening lines of Living on Exmoor by Hope L Bourne. 


‘A February afternoon.  Under the leaden, rain-filled sky the moor lies desolate, wind-lashed, streaked and curdled still with snow, rolling in heaving undulations like the billows of a tideless sea, reaching up to dark skylines swallowed in grey cloud.” 


Much of my childhood was spent on Exmoor.  This extra-ordinary woman who lived on the moor and with the moor captured it for me forever in words.


6)    What is the current read on your bedside table?


Burning Bright by Ron Rash.  A friend gave it to me recently as a gift, and I am ashamed to say that I had not read his work before, although I am a great admirer and avid reader of short stories.  It is a challenging, but powerful genre and I now understand why Rash is considered a master.  I lived in Kentucky for a few years and come Friday evening, we would put the tent in the trunk of the chevy and the secondhand river boat on the roof and head off into the Appalachian hills.  These stories have brought it all back:  the poverty, the people as impenetrable and tough as the hills they inhabit, the isolation, but also the resilience and generosity of spirit.   They are moving and sometimes humorous stories without one wasted word.    One reviewer summed it up:  “a considered distillation of the human spirit’ seen in a stolen egg,  a secondhand bike for Christmas or a gravedigger’s final come-uppance.  Brilliant.  


7)    We know you are not meant to judge a book by its cover but we all do, so confess…tell us which book you read purely down to aesthetics, and did it live up to your expectations?


Most recently I was lured by H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.   It spoke to me from a shelf long before it was famous.  I was drawn by the juxtaposition of the childlike alphabet reference and the power of the hawk, with the curiously old fashioned feel.


It exceeded my expectations in ways I did not anticipate.  I heard Helen Macdonald speak at a bookshop reading and that exceeded all expectations as well.



8)    You meet a person who is not a reader at all but they’re prepared to give it a go with your ONE suggestion….what book do you press into their hands?


The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby.  It’s not the best book I have ever read, but I think A. L Kennedy had it right when he wrote ‘It represents an almost inconceivable act of generosity, the gift of the mind and spirit for which writing was designed.’ 


This is what it is to write.  This is what it is to read.  This almost makes explicit the process by which  writing and reading unleash the butterfly of thought and imagination from the diving bell which keeps us at the bottom most of the time.


And unlike Anna Karenina (which also came to mind) it has the benefit of being very short.



Well, after reading Catherine’s contribution my ‘to read’ pile has definitely just increased! Also, I have never read ‘When We Were Six’ by A A Milne, what is that all about Ma and Pa?!


I really hope you enjoyed this edition of Book Who’s Talking. As usual you can take a further look at Catherine’s book and all those she has mentioned by clicking here.


Even better, you can come along and meet the Mr B’s family and Catherine herself at our Book Lovers Unity evening on Tuesday 24th March, where she will be talking about ‘The Well’. The evening will begin with some wine/soft drinks and nibbles as we all get settled and have a natter. After that we head to the reading room to listen to The Bookshop Band perform songs inspired by the book itself, before we then chat to Catherine. We will then have a break for everybody to tuck into some supper provided by ‘Delizioso’ (for all those have been to previous events – this is Joe, maker of the AMAZING deserts!) The second half of the evening gives the audience a chance to ask Catherine their own questions and to get their books signed. We will also take 5 minutes to include one of my now favourite parts of our events, the continuing story that our visiting authors are writing! If you have missed this so far, we asked the first author of our 2015 events calendar, Emma Hooper, to begin a story for us, writing a paragraph or so. Every visiting author is provided with the story so far and asked to take us on the next step of the journey. It is an absolute treat so far and it is great to see what tricks and turns each author introduces (I am sure they are sometimes laying a challenge down for those to follow – ‘Go on, see how you will deal with THIS!’, looking at you Horatio Clare and your ‘fire parrots’!)  


For those who are unfamiliar with our Book Lover Unite events, we always choose a theme based on the book we are discussing that evening. Once the theme has been picked we then think of five other great books that are inkeeping with this. We thought it would be a nice idea to get the wider Mr B family involved here so that they can see their suggestions out on display in the shop. For this event we have chosen the theme ‘Tilted World’, as we loved the dystopian vision of the drought and the effect this has on the population. To give you all an idea of how we tend to choose, a book we came up with for this was ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker, which tells the story of a young woman coming of age at a time when the rotation of the Earth suddenly begins to slow down. So get your thinking caps on! What books do you think would be perfect for our ‘Tilted World’ list? If your suggestion makes it to the final five we will make sure you are name checked! Send your book titles to any of the usual places all mentioned below. We will discuss the ‘chosen ones’ on the night itself!


So as you can see, an entertaining evening to be had by all those who attend! Tickets are £14 or £25 for 2. If you would like one or have any other questions you can get in touch by email, twitter @mrbsemporium, phone 01225 331155 OR you could even do it the old fashioned way and just pop in to see us!


Until next time gang, happy reading! 

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