Check out my interview with The Girl In The Maze author Cathy Hayward, who talks me through how she came to create her debut novel and what’s next for her writing career.
Please let me know about The Girl In The Maze. How did you find the process of getting the novel written and preparing for publication?
The Girl in the Maze is historical fiction about three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy. It explores the theme of mothering and being mothered. I started a creative writing course in 2015 and somewhere in the second year, I realised that what I was writing was not lots of smaller pieces but part of a greater whole, which eventually became The Girl in the Maze. My mother, with whom I’d had a difficult relationship, had died while I was on the course.
It was while I was clearing out her flat that I was inspired with the main part of the plot – a woman discovering something in her late mother’s possessions which sets her on a trail of discovery about her mother’s life. I didn’t discover anything in my mother’s flat, but writing the story was a form of therapy in itself and I now feel at peace with our relationship which is why the book is dedicated to her. I tinkered with it in 2017 and 2018 but it was only in 2019 that I started to properly work on it and I finished it in the first Covid lockdown. My old writing tutor, who had helped me get it ready for publication, suggested I enter the Lost the Plot writing competition which I went on to win. The organisers, Agora Books, then offered me a publishing deal – an amazing moment. But that was after I’d had loads and loads of rejections from agents and publishers.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards history fiction and darker themes?
I didn’t consciously set out to write a dark book. I think you just write what you know. At the time I started writing in earnest, I had just lost both parents and was struggling to come to terms with my relationship with my mother and the fact that could never now be fixed. I knew loose details of my mother’s life and ended up writing a fictionalised account of her experiences to help me with my grieving. I also did an English and History degree back in the 1990s, so writing historical fiction allows me to explore both elements.
What is your career background and how did you come to write a novel?
I trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. I then moved into the world of PR. I’ve been around writing all my life but hadn’t written creatively since I was at school. It was hitting 40 in 2015 which made me realise it was now or never. I signed up for a creative writing course with the intention of writing a novel and went from there.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?
I love a routine. I used to try to fit writing in and around work and life and it just always fell by the wayside. But once Covid hit, I used the time I would have been travelling to London to write and quickly got into a really good routine. I now write between 5 and 7am and then get the kids up and get on with my day job. It works really well, although I do have to go to bed early. My first two novels were inspired by old family history. I came up with the idea for my third while watching a documentary.
What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?
I enjoy a mix. I read a lot of historical fiction because I love reading about different times in history and it also helps my own writing. I’ve just finished all three of Stacey Halls books and particularly loved The Familiars. But I can’t resist a good thriller – the sort of book you read in one sitting because it’s just so good. This year I’ve been reading many fellow debut authors books, both to support them and see what else is out there. It’s been a great opportunity to read outside my usual genres – Neema Shah’s debut Kololo Hill about Ugandan Asians fleeing from Uganda after Idi Amin ordered their expulsion was incredibly moving and gave me real insight into the refugee experience.
If you could collaborate with any person, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to collaborate with someone on a writing project. I see fiction books which are co-written and wonder how it’s done. Writing is such a solitary and personal thing, I wonder whether the co-writers fight about where the plot is going! That said, I’d love any opportunity to work with Kate Morton because I adore her epic books about family secrets.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I’m just starting to go through the edits for my second novel, provisionally titled The Fortune Teller’s Promise, which sees university student Rosie home for the holidays to finish her dissertation which is about the Great War. Her mother suggests she talks to her great-grandmother Edith. Rosie reluctantly visits the old lady but is quickly drawn in by her vivid recollections of the start of the war and her father and brothers joining up to fight. But when Edith repeatedly slips up on dates and locations, Rosie starts to wonder whether her memory is beginning to fail her, or if their family history is not what it seems.
I studied the Great War at university and loved it, so it’s been wonderful to revisit some of that literature again and do more research. But the story was also inspired by our family history. My late grandmother was engaged to be married to a man who was killed in the Great War.
I’ve also started my third book which is set in the 1970s and explore post-natal depression.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?
One of the judges for the Lost the Plot prize was Laura Pearson, who also published her debut with Agora Books a few years ago and has since had two more books published. She’s been very supportive of me and is very active on Twitter. I’ve just bought all three of her books and am getting started on Missing Pieces, another story about family secrets and intrigue. I’m looking forward to Emily Gunnis’s new book The Midwife’s Secret, which comes out in October and also the second instalment of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. I tend to read about two books a month and have a hefty to be read pile!
Huge thanks to Cathy for answering my questions- I’m also reading The Man Who Died Twice and it’s awesome. I’m excited to add The Girl In The Maze to my TBR pile!