Expat Author Interview: Pelt and Other Stories

Published: 9 Oct at 12 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Ghana
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana. Her collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, was published in September 2013. Her stories have been published in Wasafiri, Short Fiction, ‘Wild Cards’ a Virago Anthology, A Tale of Three Cities, Tears in the Fence, The View from Here, Pretext and Ether Books. She lives in Italy. Catherine's expat blog is called The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy (see listing here)

Expat author Catherine - grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana
Expat author Catherine - grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana

Here's the interview with Catherine...

An interview with Catherine McNamara, whose second book came out in September. ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ is an expat’s feast, with stories set in Ghana, Italy, Australia, Brussels and Berlin, all places Catherine knows firsthand.

Your first book was an erotic comedy set in Italy called ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’. How is it that you’ve changed from a humorous novel to literary short stories?
Well, I’ve been publishing short stories on and off for twenty years, stories that were set in Africa mostly. But every time I’ve been close to finding an agent they’ve asked for a full-length novel. Very frustrating for someone who simply loves writing short stories. Writing a story is vastly different from producing a novel, and you really need staying power to write an original, convincing novel. ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion’ was written when I needed some humour in my life, and is the result of years of observing the crazy culture clashes between Italians and Anglophones. It was commercial, and slightly easier to publish. The short stories are a more serious examination of people in and out of their natural contexts.

What aspects of being an expat or exile do you explore in your stories?
In the short stories I examine themes very dear to me: migration, living outside of one’s skin, trying to find one’s place. Displacement and discomfort. I’m very interested in trying to understand other cultures and while there are core similarities, I love to show up the differences that make each place unique.

In your stories you often take on the voice of local characters, or change gender or race. Do you find this difficult to do? Are there elements of truth in your stories?
I find when a story comes to me, I am somehow supplied with a voice at the outset. I won’t start writing anything unless I feel I can bring truth to the page. Sometimes I ‘borrow’ people I have known. I lived for ten years in Ghana and experienced widely different living situations, so ended up having a fairly in-depth view of life there. Although I don’t take notes (I can hardly read my handwriting!) I’ve always been a bit of an observer.

How appropriate is it for an outsider to speak in the voice of a local? Or for an Australian woman such as yourself to speak as a pregnant Ghanaian woman?
If I worried too much about authenticity I probably wouldn’t be brave enough to write anything at all. I just give it my best, and try to make the story exact and compelling to the end. I fall in love with my characters a little each time. I guess the willingness to explore the mentality of the ‘other’ comes from feeling quite at home there, which I was for a long time. My youngest child was born in a local Ghanaian hospital with no doctor present!

Short stories are traditionally a hard sell, do you think ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ has a bright future?
It is very hard to have a short story collection picked up and I think my publisher was so impressed by the work I put into promotion of my first book that he let me have a try. The collection was a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, which helped, and first reviews have been very encouraging. Most people prefer the long engagement of the novel, without understanding that a short story is not lacking this, but rather offering a more concise and perhaps resonant experience. Smart phone applications are broadening the commerciality of short stories so I hope that brings long-term appreciation.

EBook or hard copy?
Well, the book is available as both, but you’d don’t get the very cool cover on an eBook! Find out more on her book blog: http://peltandotherstories.blogspot.com

Where can readers pick up a copy of ‘Pelt and Other Stories’?
or your friendly independent bookseller

About the author

Expat Blog ListingCatherine is an Australian expat living in Italy. Blog description: CATHERINE MCNAMARA grew up in Sydney and moved to Paris to study French, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. She moved to Italy eight years ago.
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