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Interview with an Author: Catherine West-McGrath (a Self-Published Author)

Updated: May 2


Front cover of Compassion-on-Sea: a self-published book by Catherine West-McGrath

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Catherine West-McGrath, self-publishing

author of UpLit novel, Compassion-on-Sea, due for release on the 28th of March 2024.


I wanted to know all about her self-publishing journey, right from conception to release, and Catherine kindly obliged in telling me how she ended up writing the novel she never thought she could produce.



Hi Catherine, so why don't you start by telling me a little about yourself?


In 2017, I stopped taking some medication which wasn't supervised properly. This neglect led to me having a mental health crisis resulting in a five-week stay in hospital.


How this could happen to someone was beyond comprehension and so confusing, and to help process what had happened to me, I started writing.


Writing is a form of therapy, and by this point, I'd got quite cynical about medical and pharmaceutical treatment, and I was trying to pull myself away from that. Thank goodness I did!


I ended up writing a 1,000-word children's story and published that in 2020. After its release, one of my friends said, 'This is the beginning of your writing journey'. Where I had thought I'd done it and it was a nice thing to do, my friend's comment made me wonder what else I could do. It wasn't really the end of a process, but the beginning.


As a singer and songwriter, I started writing poetry and lyrics, and have since published six poetry and lyric collections.


But, if you're a writer, the ultimate goal is to write a novel.


I had already taken part in the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2020/2021, but because I was writing it in the first person, after 20 days I just had to stop because I felt like I was becoming my character. I'm a bit of an all-or-nothing person, so it was far too intense for me.


I'd written about 30,000 words, but the NaNoWriMo experience had sort of put me off, so I put it away for a couple of years, though it stayed in the back of my mind.


In June 2022, I signed up for a writing course called The Novelry. They're a group of authors and editors and they act as book coaches and book editors. Once you join the programme, it's all delivered online. I chose an author with a story similar to mine who would be my book coach and she helped me develop the story.


I was surprised that, even though it was my book, she was so interested in the characters and enthusiastic about this piece of fiction I was writing.


I pushed through and ended up with a 60,000-word manuscript. It was amazing. I couldn't believe I'd actually done it.


I put it away for a bit before trying to do some polishing myself, and when I presented it to the editor, she was absolutely brutal (chuckles). But I knew it was what I needed to hear because I then knew where I needed to go back and make changes to improve it.


Then when I went back to her she was really impressed with my improvements, so that gave me some encouragement.


I've spent about a year editing it.


I sent it out to about nine agents and three independent book publishers, but nobody wanted to pick it up. However, I got some feedback, so I changed the title and blurb. It was at that point that I decided to go down the self-publishing route. But I'm kind of glad about that because if it had been picked up with the original title and blurb, I don't think I would have been as happy as I am now.



Back cover of Compassion-on-Sea: a self-published book by Catherine West-McGrath


What prompted you to write this particular book?


Although it's a work of fiction, I wanted to use some of my own experience with what had happened to me. It has a mental health aspect to it, and for anyone who's interested in mental health or what happens to people when you're in the mental health system, I think it will be of interest.


We talk about mental health all the time, but I have a unique perspective on it, and now I actually work and help with inspections, and interview people who are in hospital to make sure patient voice is heard. I think it's really important for patient safety and for helping people recover.


I thought about writing it in either a memoir or non-fiction format, but I think you can reach more people through a story. Although it's a fiction story, it's based on insight and perspective and presented in a compassionate way that, especially from a mental health point of view, I think the media fails to do.


And that really annoys me, so I wanted to make the characters very relatable and show them in a positive light.



Apart from the help The Novelry provided, what other processes have you gone through whilst trying to self-publish this book?


I had to be careful where I spent my resources, so I did have to teach myself some editing. I sent chunks of my manuscript off to independent editors and got some objective feedback. I then expanded that feedback across the entire manuscript.


After that, I paid to have my cover designed (I found my designer through Reedsy) because I wanted a professional cover, and the rest has gone into marketing.


I'm aware that with social media my book could be torn apart, but I just had to do it and put it out there.



Was there anything about the process that took longer or you found harder than you anticipated?


I didn't give myself a deadline of when I wanted it published by. I left it to stew so I could go back to it with fresh eyes. Because I'm into my music as well, I'm a very auditory person, so I would use text-to-speech so I could listen to it.


I've not even had my first proof copy yet, it's due any day now.


I just try to look at it from all angles and give myself time in between so I come back to it with fresh eyes and try to see it from a new perspective.


You have to adjust your mindset because there were times when, after I'd finished the original manuscript, I'd work on it and the word count would go drastically down so I had to try and get the word count back up again. I kept thinking it was so hard, but if I kept telling myself that, it was going to be. So, I just had to tell myself it's really easy (chuckles), you know, play little mind tricks on myself and get through it.


I've tried to enjoy every stage knowing that these are all things that you have to do. I've not been impatient or told myself it has to be finished by a certain date and just realised it's all part of the process.


There are so many more opportunities to learn from people and other authors who are part of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and that kind of thing, so you can connect with lots of people who are going through the process which makes it a bit easier. Some might be a little further ahead, and some might be a little further behind, but as part of a writing community, you support each other.



What have you learnt from your experience?


Oh, golly! Lots.


Well, I learnt that I can do it, because I didn't realise I would be able to.


I've just learnt so much about storytelling, editing, publishing and marketing. There are so many aspects to publishing a novel.


I'm doing the digital version on Draft2Digital, then hardback and the next stage is getting it into bookstores. Everything is all for the first time and you've just got to enjoy the process and learn from every little bit of it. Even setbacks, just take them in your stride and don't stress about it.



What's next?


I think I'll just lie down for a while (chuckles).


It's just so full-on. I'm working full time and every spare minute and weekend you're working on it. When you're self-publishing, there's always something to do. It does feel a bit relentless at the minute.


So, I'm going to take a break, but then I'd like to get it into an audiobook format.


I'll need to find someone to read it because I need it narrated by someone with a different accent. So that's going to be the next thing I'll learn about.


There are constantly things to learn, and I think that's why I'm enjoying it so much.



What would you say to other writers looking to write a novel?


I just want to encourage other people to have a go. There are so many opportunities for learning and doing, it's not such a dark art anymore. There's a process, and as long as you learn that process, you can do it.


We're not taught how to publish a novel at school, which is a shame, and I know we encourage children to read, but I'm really passionate about writing and I would always encourage people to write.


With independent presses and the option to self-publish, more of us can share our stories, which makes it more diverse. Although when you look on agents' websites or profiles and they say they're looking for something different, I'm not sure that's the case. Ultimately, it's the publishers who are in charge and they're just looking for the next commercial hit.


It's about knowing the different roles in a team, who you need to do it and how to find them, so the more I learn about that the better really.



Want to arrange a book club with Catherine?


Whether in-person or via Zoom, Catherine does book readings or ask the author meetings. She hopes to inspire people to think about writing their own book or just to read for pleasure.


You can visit her author website here: www.catherinewestmcgrath.co.uk


Compassion-on-Sea is now available to purchase directly from Catherine's website and other online retailers.




Please note: The views expressed in this post are those of Catherine West-McGrath and not those of Hayley Rushbrook or Proofreading by Hayley.



 


I hope you've enjoyed this post. If you have your own author story you'd like me to feature, please get in touch.


I'm a partner member of ALLi and you can find my profile here: Partner Profile - Proofreading by Hayley (allianceindependentauthors.org)
















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