The Monthly discusses writing and poetry with Cathy Carson

Can you remember when writing first interested you?

Yes. When I was in school I loved writing. It was the only subject that I really connected with and I committed to writing in a way that I did not do with anything else. I used to stay away from school a lot of the time, but I always made sure I was there for English.

Did you continue to write?

I left school early and didn’t really write much as life tended to get in the way, so I really didn’t come back to writing until I was older. There were things that I needed to write about, to process, and in some ways I was using writing as a form of therapy and I never really considered that what I was writing could be shared with anyone.

I had a very difficult home life and there was the experience when I was growing up of domestic violence. Because of that, school was never really a priority and the situation wasn’t one where I could be supported with my schoolwork or my interest in writing. Staying safe was much more important.

I did have a teacher, Mrs Harvey, who thought I had talent; she thought I had a good command of the English language, but given my home situation, I wasn’t able to harness that to do something with it.

You said you left school quite young?

Yes and I worked a lot of odd jobs eventually finding my way into Care Homes and working with people. In fact that was a real turning point in that it was the period where I developed a better relationship with adults. During that time I would go to training days and things like that and I would reacquaint myself with my abilities as a writer. I was writing but still not for public display.

What happened to change your approach?

I showed my writing to a friend of mine and she thought it would be good to share it. She thought it would be able to reach a wider audience. I ended up sending my material to the event, TENx9, which is a storytelling event run by Padraig O’Tuama and Paul Doran and they suggested that I come and read at the event.

I must admit I found it very difficult,  I’m naturally shy so that didn’t help me either, but I am glad that I read at those evenings because that was the start of building my confidence to do other things.

After that I did workshops with Deidre Cartmill, Bernie McGill and Sheena Wilkinson, and many others. I developed my writing, and my ability to produce material which could connect with people. I was also reading a lot of books and a lot of poetry at that time as well. I was honing the craft and developing my own style.

What other events have you read at?

I sent my material to Byddi Lee who runs Flash Fiction Armagh and she invited me to read at her event. And after that I started to attend open mics and festivals. I do feel that I was just getting into my stride when the pandemic hit but I have been able to attend lots of Zoom events and I have been the featured reader at a number of the online poetry readings around the world.

What are the underlying themes in your writing?

I look into the themes of the human condition and human connection. Those are the two things which drive me personally and that filters in to my writing and beyond that I am looking at the questions of domestic violence, addiction, of homelessness, of dementia. I do tend to look at difficult subjects and I certainly don’t shy away from investigating those areas of life. I think we need, as a society, to have conversations about these issues.

Have you been published?

Yes I have had some of my poetry published in anthologies but I think performance is what drives me. I don’t feel the same connection with getting my work published as I do when I am reading or performing my work to an audience. I really do feel that I can connect with an audience and I think that is where my material works best.

Even when it is difficult to assess who is in the audience, particularly when you are doing the Zoom or online performances, I still think you can connect with people. I tend to pick a person in the Zoom Room and concentrate on that person as if they are directly in front of the camera rather than simply looking at the screen, if that makes sense. It is all about connection for me.

Where to now?

I am gathering material for a pamphlet and I am working on material for a one woman show. That is where my energies are being applied at this point in time. I am hoping to have something available to be published next year and I am also working on various bits and pieces, commissions and little projects which keep me busy.

I work as a nurse in the Cancer Centre so that keeps me busy and can draw me away from my writing so I need to find ways to keep focused on the goals that I have set myself and I am a member of Castleward writing group facilitated by Olive Broderick and this has been really important in helping me develop as a writer.

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