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This month course alumna Cathy Hayward started working alongside course founder Dr Mark Slater to manage the Creative Writing Programme. Here she talks about her experiences on the CWP and how the partnership came about.

Cathy 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. She then moved into the world of PR and set up an award-winning communications agency. Last year, she took over Kemptown Bookshop in Brighton and is living out her dream of running a bookshop. Cathy studied on the Creative Writing Programme from 2015-17.

Why did you decide to take the Creative Writing Programme back in 2015? I’d always loved writing and had started several novels over the years but had always run out of steam as work and family pressures took over. I turned 40 in 2015 and felt it was now or never. I didn’t want to look back with regret and think that I could have achieved something if only I’d committed to it. I found The Creative Writing Programme and it was exactly what I needed to give me the skills, support, and discipline to start prioritising my writing.

What was your experience of the course? I had a rocky start. My father died just a few weeks before it began, and then, six months in, my mother died. But I found writing allowed me to start to process those seismic shifts in my life. Looking back, I used writing as a form of therapy to help me through those difficult months.  The course itself was brilliant – I was very nervous at the beginning but we were gently supported through those first few exercises and the initial fear of sharing our work. And it all very quickly became much easier. Everyone on the course was very supportive of one another and I’m still in touch with several of them.

By the end of the course, had you completed a major piece of work? Some time in the second year, I realised that what I was writing wasn’t separate pieces of work but all part of a greater whole – what became my debut novel The Girl in the Maze about the experience of mothering and being mothered. By the end of the course, I’d written about half of that book and I continued with it over the next few years. Much of what I wrote in the course made it into the final version so it was very much time well spent.

Tell us how you secured a publishing deal. On the advice of one of the CWP tutors, I entered the first three chapters of my manuscript into a competition, which I went on to win. The prize was a meeting with an agent and a publisher, and I was offered a publishing deal at that meeting – an amazing moment.

What are you writing at the moment? After The Girl in the Maze, I wrote a second book set in the Great War, which my publisher rejected with a one-line email! Fortunately by then I was half way through a third book, which she did like. It’s about a woman who was told her mother had died in childbirth, but who later discovers that wasn’t what happened at all. I’m now in final edits for that and I’m working on a story about four sisters who come together after the death of their mother.

You’ve now working alongside CWP founder Dr Mark Slater on the CWP courses. How did that come about? When my debut novel was published, I contacted Mark to thank him as I would never have achieved that dream without the Creative Writing Programme. He helped me arrange a book launch in Brighton which was great fun. The following year, when I took over Kemptown Bookshop, I got in touch with him again to offer the bookshop as a space for CWP events. We started talking and quite quickly it became obvious there was synergy between the CWP and the bookshop in terms of our wider social purpose. The bookshop became the physical home of the courses in 2022 and, as a result of that partnership, we decided to extend it with me becoming more involved in the running of the course. I couldn’t be more excited and proud to now be involved in the course which helped me to become a writer.

You describe your writing as historical fiction, is that what you prefer to read? I do enjoy reading historical fiction, but with my job at Kemptown Bookshop I tend to read very widely. I run two book groups as well as author events most weeks, so I read everything from non-fiction, queer lit and crime to literary fiction, women’s fiction and thrillers. I love that diversity.

Which author would you most like to meet? We get quite a few famous authors popping into the shop to sign their books. William Boyd came in the other day which was very exciting and I met Cathy Rentzenbrink at a conference recently. But I’m a massive fan of Claire Keegan and am always recommending her books to our customers. I’m signed up to one of her courses in September and am feeling a little bit fan girl about the prospect of meeting her.

What’s the book you most recommend to others? Small Things Like These and Foster by Claire Keegan; The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. In terms of the craft of writing, I love John Yorke’s Into the Woods.

Read more about Cathy on her website.