A Lancashire farm childhood and family life helped inspire former Garstang High School student Catherine Simpson to achieve a lifetime’s ambition.
This week a jubilant Catherine is celebrating the publication of her debut novel “Truestory”, launched at Waterstones bookshop in Edinburgh last Thursday.
Local family and friends travelled north to celebrate Catherine’s success. The proud author said: “It feels amazing - half wonderful and half terrifying. I’m 51 and when I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life for it to suddenly come true when you are 51 is quite hard to believe!”
She added: “I wrote as a child, but I didn’t show it to anybody. Then I became a journalist because that’s one acceptable way to write for a living.”
But in her 40s she took up creative writing seriously, studying her craft and attending courses, including an Open University course and then an MA in creative writing at Edinburgh Napier University.
Although her home is now near Edinburgh, with journalist husband Marcello and her two daughters, her Lancastrian roots are never far from mind. She was brought up on a Winmarleigh dairy farm, attending Winmarleigh school, the local High (now Garstang Academy) and Preston’s W.R.Tuson College.
Catherine then worked as a civil servant before retraining as a journalist at Preston Polytechnic, later taking a degree in journalism in Birmingham.
She returns to the north west regularly to see family and friends and said: “The Lancashire landscape and farming life provided a lot of the inspiration for the novel.”
But she stresses it is also: “a work of fiction inspired by a daughter.”
The book recounts the tale of a boy with autism who refuses to leave the isolated Lancashire farm where he was born and interacts with the world through his computer. He dreams of one day leaving and following his map all the way to Lancaster.
Catherine’s daughter Nina, 20, a student, has Asperger’s Syndrome. Although she is adamant her fictional character is not Nina, she says she drew on her experience of parenting a child with Asperger’s to write an authentic story: ”You can be very intelligent and very academically successful but you can still be challenged by other things.”
Catherine also acknowledged: “Farming can be a lonely life – and with my character having autism, he is doubly cut off. The novel is upbeat, though, because no matter how trapped we feel, there are always always ways to escape.”
Growing up in the countryside Catherine recalls did feel remote: “But in reality it was only two miles from Garstang. It was a great feeling of being miles from anywhere. These hedgerows almost seemed to grow together at the top, massive elms and ash trees. It was very green - overgrown hedgerows and the endless fields to play in. I was brought up in a village where every farm had a friend or relation on it. I was one of lots of cousins.”
The opening chapters of her book won a Scottish New Writers Award in 2013 and she has been listed in many writing competitions.
Catherine’s short stories have been included in anthologies and magazines and she has performed her work at a number of festivals, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The book costs £8.99 and is published by the Saltire Publisher of the Year, Sandstone Press.
Both Nina and her other daughter Lara, 17, have, she says read the book with approval. Now Catherine, who is at work on her next book, has another, very local ambition: “I’m hoping Garstang library will get it in.”