Cath Barton’s award-winning novella, The Plankton Collector, is a modern-day parable, a allegory for a defeated world. The Plankton Collector is that archetype from dreams and fairytales: a hero in disguise who arrives just as one family is on the ledge of their grief. This slim book gives you hope for humanity and lets you remember that angels are among us, watching, and, every so often–stepping in.
Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words:
Cath Barton: Mysterious stranger helps grieving family recover
NS: This is your first published book! Has the process been what you thought it would be?
CB: I really had no idea what the process would be! I entered the book for the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella in 2017, with absolutely no expectation of success as the competition was open to writers throughout the UK and in the whole of North America. So I was amazed and delighted to win, and that the prize included publication.
It was a whole year before the book came out and that seemed an awfully long wait. I understand more about timescales in the publishing industry now!
NS: You say in your Acknowledgements that you weren’t planning to write a novella until challenged. Where did the idea for this story come from? Had this idea always been there or did it come after the challenge?
CB: The family in my book started life in a flash fiction piece I had written as an exercise some time before the challenge, about a boy looking out of his window at his mother visiting the grave of his brother. The graveyard is just beyond their garden. The house, the garden and the graveyard became key locations in the novella, which grew around the death of the brother. As for the Plankton Collector who helps the family, where is came from is as mysterious as everything else about him!
NS: Have you ever met the Plankton Collector?
CB: Not yet, as far as I know, though I could of course have been sitting at the next table to him in a cafe without realising it. As could you!
NS: How did your experience writing flash fiction help you write a novella (or not)?
CB: Yes, I think the discipline of working on flash, making every word is essential, is good training for the novella form, where not only is there no room for excursions from the story, but also, I feel, the emotional content is very concentrated. I like that – I’m not by nature a discursive writer, and I appreciate the challenge of making a story as taut as possible.
NS: The Plankton Collector won the 2017 New Welsh Writing award—congratulations! Do you consider yourself a Welsh Writer? If so, what does that mean to you?
CB: Thank you! The answer to that is yes – and no! I wasn’t born in Wales, so I’m not Welsh. I have lived here since 2005, and I do have an affinity with the country, but so I do with England, where I was born, and Scotland, where my parents were from. I identify as a British writer and also, I might add, as a European one.
Of course, as a writer living in Wales I have access to some specific writing opportunities, for which I’m very grateful. I was given mentoring support through Literature Wales last year, which helped me complete a collection of short stories.
NS: You have another book coming out later this year, I believe? What can we expect from that book? How is it similar/different from The Plankton Collector?
CB: I’ve got a second novella coming out in September 2020. It’s called In the Sweep of the Bay, which refers to Morecambe Bay, in north west England, where it’s set. It’s about a family as The Plankton Collector is, but focussing on the joys and sorrows of a long marriage, so the emphasis is different. And there’s no magical realism is this one.
NS: What is your best advice to someone who is writing/wants to write a book?
CB: Concentrate on the writing – tell your story the way you want to. Don’t think about publication until you’ve got the book done.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
CB: Thanks so much for inviting me along, Nancy!
The Plankton Collector is available in the US through Amazon as an e-book and also in paperback.
Also through Barnes and Noble as a paperback or NOOK book.
UK readers can order on-line through Amazon, Gwales or any branch of Waterstones.
Cath Barton’s prize-winning novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Rarebyte. Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020, and her short story collection, The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Retreat West Books in early 2021. Cath is also active in the on-line flash fiction community and is a regular contributor to the online critical hub Wales Arts Review.https://cathbarton.com/ @CathBarton1