Trackman goes Italian!

I’m very pleased to report that my debut novel, Trackman, has been translated into Italian and published by Condaghes. It was translated by the lovely Alessandra Contu, who can be seen here presenting it at the Leggendo Metropolitano literary festival in Sardinia. I would have loved to have joined her in sunny Sardinia, but have been slightly busy recently with my son, who arrived on the 1st January.
I’ve enjoyed sharing emails over the last year or so with Alessandra, especially trying to explain some of the words and phrases she was unsure about e.g. ‘greetin’, ‘shivery bite’, ‘teenybash’ and ‘fuck this for a bag of soldiers.’

Here it is in all its glory!
Trackman Italian

Swim Until You Can’t See Land – Buy now for just £6

SwimMy most recent novel, Swim Until You Can’t See Land, is now available in hardback and signed for just £6 (including postage) if you buy it directly from me. It charts the relationship between two women born sixty years apart – professional swimmer Hannah Wright and Marièle Downie, a wartime spy in occupied France.
If you want me to scribble a personalised message, please just let me know.

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Portobello Book Festival

I recently took part in an event at the Portobello Book Festival, appearing on the same bill as Val McDermid no less! Portobello is a brilliant wee festival which is run by enthusiastic volunteers with all events are completely free. I did a Q&A session around my latest book Swim Until You Can’t See Land and very much enjoyed myself.

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The very lovely Joanne from Portobello Book Blog came along to my event and has kindly reviewed Swim on her blog as well as featured me as one of her ‘Authors in the Spotlight.’

You can read her review here and my Author in the Spotlight Q&A here!

The Wild Ones

Let it not be said that I’m not committed to my writing. This morning I joined the Wild Ones outdoor swimming group in Portobello to see what sea swimming is really like.

I’ve often been asked if I’ve tried outdoor swimming and I’ve always said no, unashamedly referring to myself as a pool swimmer. I’ve got a huge respect for open water, the darkness, the unknown, the power, the unpredictability, the creatures living in it, the cold! All of which firmly put me in the ‘pool swimmer’ camp.

I’m doing an event at the Portobello Book Festival next month though (see event details below) and Sarah Morton, who is chairing the event, is a passionate outdoor swimmer. When I met her at the Festival programme launch a couple of weeks ago she suggested I come along and try outdoor swimming.

‘I don’t have a wetsuit, I’m afraid,’ I answered.

‘Oh, you don’t need one, most of us just swim in cossies,’ she replied.

‘Ah, okay, maybe I’ll give it a go sometime then, maybe, one day, possibly…’

I laughed it off on the night, no real intention of taking her up on the offer, but a little voice in my head kept tormenting me – just try it, go on, don’t be such a chicken.

I mentioned it to my husband, thinking he would laugh – ‘yeah right, you?! Outdoor swimming!’ But he surprised me by saying, ‘yeah, why not, give it a go.’

All of which led to me turning up at 9:30am on a Sunday morning outside the baths at Portobello.

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As we got changed, my feet already chilly against the cold sand, the chat amongst the regulars was not what I wanted to hear.

The tide’s never been this far out before, it’s going to be a long, cold trek to get out there.

It’s cold today isn’t it, I should have brought my wetsuit after all.

I was reading online about the onset of hypothermia.

Last Sunday was lovely, but today…

Then one voice ‘Right, I’m going in.’

Okay! I followed her and the rest of the group into the sea, an intake of breath as we got deeper, ignoring the voice in my head which was now shouting things like ‘fuck, it’s cold’ and ‘jellyfish!’

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Yeah, it was freezing. Yeah, I closed my eyes when I saw the first wave rolling towards me. And yeah, getting the shoulders under took a bit of willpower. Splash your arms a bit first. But once I was in there and actually swimming, it was pretty great.

I expected to feel cold, but was surprised by the warm, burning sensation instead. My arms and legs, used to feeling the water and using it to propel me forward, slipped and slid through the choppy sea water. The waves pushed me back to shore, much more powerful than I could ever be, the taste of salt in my mouth. I started with a bit of head-up breaststroke, but found the confidence to put my head in and do some front crawl. The cold water a shock to my usual breathing rhythm, my goggles showing up the murky depths, dark with swirling sand. Then we all stopped and floated for a bit, chatted, looked up at the sky, at the beach, at the horizon, and I realised I was enjoying it and looking forward to swimming back in the direction we’d just come.

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Getting out was the worst bit, my teeth were chattering, my hands shaking and I made the rookie mistake of putting all my clothes on over my wet costume which didn’t help with the warming up process. My husband was waiting for me with a cup of tea though and the in-car heating and a well done – ‘I didn’t think you’d go through with it.’ One hot shower later and my feet began to come back to life, tingling with pins-and-needles.

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If I’ve learnt anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s to experience life, live it to the full, because it’s gone far too quickly. So I’m really glad I tried open-water swimming and, a surprise to myself, I’d definitely do it again. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to experience it with either – the Wild Ones are welcoming, sensible, intrepid and, most importantly of all, they do it for the love of swimming. Some of them swim all year round; I’m not sure I’m that brave just yet, but for now the self-confessed pool swimmer can count herself as a fair-weather outdoor swimmer.

Portobello Book Festival in Portobello Library (upstairs) 4.45-5.45pm

SWIM UNTIL YOU CAN’T SEE LAND

In her latest novel, Catriona Child blends contemporary Scottish and historical fiction, contrasting the lives of two remarkable women: the injured swimmer Hannah Wright and the wartime spy Mariéle Downie. Chair: Sarah Morton

Story Shop 2015

I was thrilled to be part of this year’s Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop; having applied unsuccessfully for a few years, it was great to be one of the chosen writers for 2015. Story Shop gives emerging, local writers the chance to read out their work at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – a ten minute reading every day at 4pm in the Spiegeltent. It was a great experience and involved not only the reading, but also the opportunity to take part in a performance master class run by the (slightly terrifying) Alex Gillon.

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Appearing at the EIBF has long been an ambition of mine, so to get to read in the beautiful Spiegeltent was very exciting, if a bit nerve-wracking. I also got to hang out in the author’s yurt and have my name up in ink for 24 hours!

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The other writers who appeared were all extremely talented and very supportive and it was a joy to be part of such a nice bunch of people.

You can check out my story (and those of the other story shoppers) and listen to a short snippet of me reading it here.

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International Women’s Day

‘If you are a person who is drowning, you put all your efforts into trying to swim.’
Eileen Nearne.

Eileen Nearne

As it’s International Women’s Day, I thought I would pay tribute to Eileen Nearne, the inspiration for the character of Marièle in my recent novel Swim Until You Can’t See Land.
Eileen worked as a secret agent for the Special Operations Executive during WW2, however this was only discovered after she had died and her flat was being traced for next of kin.
She was flown into France in 1944, just days before her 23rd birthday, and worked as a wireless operator for five and a half months, sending and receiving messages, until she was arrested by the Gestapo.
While researching my novel, I discovered her file in the National Archives in which she describes, quite matter-of-factly, her capture, torture and subsequent imprisonment in a labour and concentration camp.
‘They put me in a cold bath and tried to make me speak but I stuck to the story.’
Eileen ended up part of a work gang who ‘worked on the roads for 12 hours per day,’ however she and two French girls managed to escape by hiding in a forest and then receiving help from a priest. Even then Eileen’s ordeal wasn’t over as, without her papers, she was interrogated by the American Intelligence Service who thought she might be a German agent – ‘subject claims…that despite being tortured she did not reveal any information detrimental to the British Intelligence Service.’ Eventually, after being held for over a month ‘in the camp with the Nazi girls,’ they were able to confirm who she was and she was flown back to the UK.
Eileen was an extraordinarily brave woman, who was awarded an M.B.E. and a Croix-de-Guerre for her actions during the Second World War. She was badly affected by her wartime experiences and, like many of her generation, didn’t talk about her past. There’s a very poignant entry in her file dated November 1945, in which she is recommended for work after her return to the UK – ‘In view of her extremely valuable war service and the hardship which she suffered at the hands of the Germans we are anxious to see her re-established in a suitable peace-time occupation. She is extremely keen to train in beauty culture and I have no doubt will work very hard on making a success of it if she is given an opening.’
I hope that in my novel I’ve been able to honour Eileen, and the other women like her, who gave so much during the Second World War.

Who’s calling please?

I spotted this phone in the window of a curio shop in Morningside. It drew my interest because, not only is it gorgeous, but it has an old-school Dundee number on it.
My mum’s family are all from Dundee; I was born there and my grandparents lived there till the late ‘90s. Somewhere from the depths, a number popped into my head: 65798 – my grandparent’s old phone number. I found it amazing that I’d remembered it all these years later, a strange but wonderful trick of the human brain.
When I was in the Brownies, we were taught how to use a public telephone. We had to take 10p with us and then we went out in small groups to the nearby red telephone box. My folks didn’t have a phone at the time, so I phoned my grandparents in Dundee. 65798 – I had the number written on a scrap of paper.
Looking at the phone, I started to think about so many different things. Who had it belonged to? Maybe it was someone my Granny knew – perhaps the owner had held the receiver and listened to my Granny’s voice on the other end of the line?
What sort of conversations had the phone overheard – declarations of love, secrets, gossip, arguments? Was the receiver slammed down in anger? Maybe the owner received bad news on it? Cried tears which slid down the white Bakelite. Or maybe it was good news – a pregnancy confirmation, a daughter phoning to say she’d got engaged? Perhaps the phone was just used for mundane things – booking a hair appointment, phoning a plumber, a business phone used to arrange meetings?
How had the phone ended up in Edinburgh? And what had happened to its original owner? It made me feel slightly melancholic as I wondered all these things. The person who once used a finger to spin the dial, who breathed into the mouthpiece, who laughed and cried while gripping the receiver, is probably no longer with us. While this white Bakelite phone still remains, so far from home and no longer in use, looking out at me from behind a pane of glass.

Vote Alan

As part of Book Week Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust have launched a hunt to discover the best loved character in Scottish fiction.
It’s a tough choice as there are many characters dear to my heart on the list (Chris Guthrie, Prentice McHoan, Hermione Granger) but my vote goes to Alan Breck Stewart from Kidnapped.
My Dad gave me my copy of Kidnapped when I was eight and in hospital. He was an extra in the movie version with Michael Caine and signed an inscription inside it for me – from the man who starred in the film. It’s like a hug from my Dad every time I open it.

I re-read it recently after holidaying on Mull and was reminded of what a great character Alan Breck Stewart is.
Our introduction to Alan goes like this:
He was smallish in stature, but well set and as nimble as a goat; his face was of a good open expression, but sunburnt very dark and heavily freckled and pitted with the smallpox; his eyes were unusually light and had a kind of dancing madness in them, that was both engaging and alarming…His manners beside were excellent…Altogether I thought of him, at the first sight, that here was a man I would rather call my friend than my enemy.
Like all great characters Alan has virtues we aspire to – he’s brave, loyal and he stands up for what he believes in. He’s also flawed which makes him all the more human and therefore all the more likeable – he’s quick-tempered, vain and childish.
He has a touch of the Han Solo about him – a loveable scoundrel, who doesn’t necessarily always do the right thing but his heart’s in the right place.
Although David Balfour is the main character in Kidnapped, it’s Alan who steals the show. His friendship with David is pivotal to the book. My favourite scenes are definitely when Alan and David are together, and I think it’s the lack of this interaction which makes Catriona (my namesake sequel) a poorer book.
They don’t always see eye to eye and have different political opinions – Alan’s a Jacobite and David a Whig. I read it around the time of the referendum and I’m sure Alan would have been a Yes voter; I couldn’t help feeling that the result let him down.
Although David and Alan fight and squabble, they love each other a great deal. Their friendship is definitely of the Joey/Chandler, JD/Turk ilk – two heterosexual men who are not afraid to show their emotions:
He came to me with open arms. ‘Come to my arms!’ He cried, and embraced and kissed me hard upon both cheeks. ‘David’, said he, ‘I love you like a brother. And oh, man,’ he cried in a kind of ecstasy, ‘am I no a bonny fighter?’
When they finally have to part at the end of Kidnapped, it’s heartbreaking and I felt like crying myself when I read it. The passage evokes an oppressive sadness which suffocates the reader as much as it does David.
Neither one of us looked the other in the face, nor so long as he was in my view did I take one back glance at the friend I was leaving. But as I went on my way to the city, I felt so lost and lonesome, that I could have found it in my heart to sit down by the dyke, and cry and weep like any baby.
There’s a statue of Alan and David in Corstorphine near the Rest and Be Thankful, and it makes me smile whenever I see it. It not only reminds me of my Dad and my battered old copy of Kidnapped, but I’m glad that the friends are forever immortalised together.

Kidnapped Statue

Library Love Letter

As part of Book Week Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust is asking us to write a love letter to our libraries – to tell them what they mean to us and why they are important. Here is my love letter.

Dear Library,

My first was Aberfeldy. The librarian there said I was her best customer. Granny always told me I was desperate to read for myself and, once I could, there was no stopping me. I remember the wonder I felt on my first visit. The realisation that I could choose any book, take it home, then bring it back and swap it for another. So many books. So much choice. I even remember the first book I borrowed – Five on a Treasure Island.

Since then, no matter where I’ve lived, I have sought out my local library.

My current one is Fountainbridge in Edinburgh. What a beauty! Probably the best looking library I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. It helped me to research my latest novel. I take my daughter there, to sing songs and listen to stories at the Bookbug sessions.

I would never have read so much if it wasn’t for my local library. Who could afford to keep up with my reading habit, or have room to store all the books? Because I read lots and love books, it was a natural progression to want to write my own. I’m the person I am today because of my local library. It scares me to think who I would be without their constant presence in my life.

So thank you library. I will do my best to look after you and protect you. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had a library to go to. I want that to be the same for my daughter.

 Love,

 Catriona

I’ll be at South Queensferry Library on Wednesday 26th November to read from and chat about my latest novel, Swim Until You Can’t See Land. Please come along and say hi. It’s free and you can get tickets here.

WW2 Autograph Book

I thought, on this Remembrance Day 2014, I’d tell one of my Gran’s WW2 stories that didn’t make it into Swim Until You Can’t See Land. My Gran used to tell us story after story about her time working in Millar’s the grocers during WW2. I often think about the boy who also worked there, her friends, who never made it home. Willie Boyle, Philip Lindsay, George Auchterlonie – their names engrained in my memory despite the fact they were long gone before I was born.
This story is about George. He was 30 years old and married to Teresa. He was in the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) and stationed in the Middle East when he wrote a letter home to his unborn child. He knew he probably wouldn’t make it back or ever get to meet his daughter. Teresa brought the letter into Millar’s and one of my Gran’s friends, who had contacts in DC Thomson, took the letter in to them. They went over the pencil handwriting in newspaper ink, so George’s words would never fade, so his unborn daughter would one day read for herself her dad’s words to her. George was sadly proven to be right; he died on 22nd November 1941 and is buried in Tobruk War Cemetery. Years later, his daughter came into Millar’s with the letter, asking to hear stories about the dad she never met.

I thought the story ended there but, visiting my folks a few weeks ago, my mum dug out an old autograph book belonging to my Gran’s best friend. As we looked through it we found two pencil drawings, signed by George and dated May 1940 and one by Teresa (still using her maiden name) also from May 1940.

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It’s heartbreaking to think that, in just over a year from then, George and Teresa would be married, expecting their first child and then forever parted. I wonder where their daughter is now, if she’s still alive. I’d love for her to see the drawings made by her mum and dad.