Hello Catherine, great you could take time out to visit Chill’s HQ, make yourself comfortable and tell us all about you.
The facts in a nutshell: I was born and brought up in Dublin and moved to Germany on my marriage in 1973. My husband and I returned to Ireland in 1999. We have three sons and two grandchildren. Before my marriage, I was an Administrative Officer at the Department of Finance in Dublin. I later worked as Attaché at the Irish Embassy in Bonn and, following a twelve-year stint as a full-time mother, joined the New Zealand Embassy in Bonn, where I was Administration Officer. I took early retirement from my position as Director of Administration and Human Resources at a large Dublin law firm in 2009.
How would you describe yourself?
This is the hardest question of all to answer so I sought help from my closest family and friends. It was an interesting exercise and I was both humbled and flattered by the replies which included:
· A modern woman with impeccable research and writing skills, articulate, logical, good at phrasing even complicated ideas
· Determined, strong-minded, a leader, organised and organising, energetic, goal-oriented, scarily efficient
· An ideal friend and companion with a wicked sense of humour,
· Never without a book (or several as the bookshelves in her home will tell you) and loves historical books - both fiction and non-fiction.
· Enjoys all the 'good things ' of life e.g. food, travel, music, theatre while keeping her feet firmly on the ground.
And how would you describe your books?
My books are historical fiction, not fictionalised history. While real people may have walk-on parts e.g. Lord Byron and Colonel Colborne in The Murmur of Masks, the characters and their stories are fiction. The main story arc is romantic, but as well as dealing with their own problems characters must also cope with external events and the constraints imposed by society. I am particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on around the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them.
Why write historical fiction?
So often the past determines the present. I am fascinated by people and in particular why they behave as they do. I also love a good story, particularly when characters come alive in a book. But then come the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’. Fiction allows me to answer those questions.
I have always enjoyed writing, I love the fall of words, the shaping of an expressive phrase, the satisfaction when a sentence conveys my meaning exactly. I enjoy plotting and revel in the challenge of evoking a historic era for characters who behave authentically in their period while making their actions and decisions plausible and sympathetic to a modern reader. In addition, I am fanatical about language, especially using the right language as it would have been used during the period about which I am writing. But rewarding as all this craft is, there is nothing to match the moment when a book takes flight, when your characters suddenly determine the route of their journey.
The Murmur of Masks is set in England between 1803 and 1815. Why did you choose that period?
The first quarter of the nineteenth century was one of the most significant periods of European and American history whose events still resonate after two hundred years. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 all still shape our modern world. But the aristocracy-led society that drove these events was already under attack from those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth to non-nobility and gentry. It is the beginning of our modern society.
You describe a society which afforded women little or no rights. Do you find it difficult to get into the mind-set of two hundred years ago?
The world of my girlhood was in many ways nearer to that of 1814 than that of 2014. The Ireland of the nineteen-fifties and sixties was a society with an extremely rigid moral climate; divorce was illegal as were all types of contraception. Respectability was all. Virginity in women was highly prized and ‘fallen’ girls were sent away to have their babies secretly and then give them up for adoption. Generally women did not work after they were married and most large employers terminated a woman’s employment on her marriage. Despite this, marriage was regarded as the best ‘career’ for a woman. Unless they had to leave home to work or study elsewhere, unmarried sons and daughters still tended to live with their parents.
But despite all these constraints, I think women were as strong then as they are now. They lived and loved and died, made the best lives they could for themselves. They may have had to make hard choices and live with the consequences, but so do women today.As far as going back to the past is concerned, Dublin has a wonderful Georgian core. I went to school on one Georgian square and later managed four houses on another and the memory of those long flights of stairs with their returns and return rooms, the sash-windows, the basements and coal-holes under the pavement stays with me as much as the straight lines of Yeats’s ‘grey, eighteenth-century houses’.
I also remember the drudgery of wash-day; the cold in a house that was heated only by open fires, the tang and reek of smoke in the air from all those fires; horse-drawn carts, even in the Dublin streets, with sparrows pecking at the oats spilled from the nose-bag; the meat-safe that hung outside on a north-facing wall before the advent of our first fridge. Everything was delivered from coal to groceries, with invoices sent at the end of the month when my mother did her accounts.
Neighbours who had lived side by side for decades addressed each other as Mrs and Mr So-and so, men raised their hats to salute a passing woman of their acquaintance and were meticulous about walking on the outside of the pavement when escorting her. At dances a girl could only dance if she was invited to by a man who might later ask if he could ‘see her home’, but only as far as the front door.
My husband and I wrote letters to each other for three years before we married and when I moved to Germany, letters were still the usual way of communicating with home as international trunk calls were so expensive. A phone call meant bad news. Airfares were also very dear and there was one seven-year period when our children were young that I did not travel back to Ireland at all.
Tell us about your research
I haunt antique shops, second-hand book shops, book fairs etc. and have built up a considerable research and reference library as well as a collection of prints and engravings. We tend not to think of that period in pictorial terms, or perhaps only of architectural prints, but in fact there was a roaring trade in hand-coloured engravings, lithographs etc. that covered everything from fashion to the most scurrilous gossip of the day. The internet is a wonderful facility and I have an ever-growing file of historical facts and trivia. I love visiting old towns and cities and period houses—it is important to remember the overlap of eras as well. I draw on all this to create a sense of time and place. I blog about historical facts and trivia relating to the extended Regency period on http://catherinekullmann.com/my-scrap-album/
The Murmur of Masks is your first book. What next?
The Murmur of Masks is the first in a loose series of books set between 1800 and 1825, with the bulk of the action taking place between 1812 and 1825. By a loose series, I mean one where different characters take the lead in each book but we meet some people again and again. Each book will also be stand-alone and it will not be necessary to read them in sequence but overall I hope they will present an authentic picture of the period. The next, Perception & Illusion, will be published in 2017.
What did being honoured with a Chill with a Book Award mean to you?
Chill with a Book’s criteria seem so simple but go straight to the core of what a good novel is about and for me, as a debut, indie author, it was most satisfying to learn that The Murmur of Masks meets these high standards and was honoured with an award. I am also very appreciative of the promotion opportunities offered by this award. Thank you.
Historical Fiction for the Heart and for the Head
Out now: The Murmur of Masks