From deep within the wild Welsh countryside, Catherine McCarthy spins dark yarns that deliver a sting in the tail.
She is the author of the collections Door and other twisted tales, Mists and Megaliths, and also the novella, Immortelle (published by Off Limits Press July 2021): a Gothic tale of grief and revenge, set on the West Wales coast.
Her short stories and flash fiction have been published in various places online and in anthologies, including The British Fantasy Society Horizons, Flame Tree Press, Kandisha Press and Curiosities.
In 2020 she won the Aberystwyth University Prize for creative writing for her magical realism story, The Queen’s Attendant.
When she is not writing she may be found hiking the Welsh coast path or huddled among ancient gravestones reading Machen or Poe.
Q: ‘Daughters of Darkness II’ was recently released and today I’m thrilled to be joined by Catherine McCarthy who is one of the contributing authors in this release! Catherine, thank you for joining me today! First off, if you can share a little something about yourself and the genres you enjoy writing in?
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, it’s very much appreciated.
I’m a Welsh author and ex primary school teacher, who is lucky enough to live near to the beautiful West Wales coast, though I’m originally from the South Wales Valleys. I’m also an avid reader, and I enjoy dress-making and hiking the coast path when the weather allows.
The first novel I wrote was a middle-grade low fantasy, which, although I still like the premise of it, I look back on and cringe. Don’t we all? I love writing short fiction, though I try to find a balance between that and longer pieces. I suppose my work comes under the umbrella of quiet horror with folklore elements. I offer no jump scares, and prefer to inspire a sense of seeping dread.
Q: As one of the authors who is featured in ‘Daughters of Darkness II’, what was your leading reason for participating in this release?
A: I’ve been acquainted with both Steph and Aly for well over a year, ever since the launch of Diabolica Britannica (a charity anthology, edited by Keith Baird, to raise funds for the N.H.S. Re Covid). All three of us were invited to contribute to it, and, since all three of us are of a similar age and have similar tastes in books, we kind of clicked and began chatting outside of the anthology.
When they invited me to contribute to ‘Daughters of Darkness II’ I was thrilled. As I say, we have so much in common, and I love the way they aim to raise the status of female horror writers. It was a no-brainer for me. I also know the other contributors and consider the whole team to be friends, so the camaraderie has been fabulous.
Q: Can you share the title of the story that you have featured in ‘Daughters of Darkness II’ and a little spoiler-free tease about it?
A:I decided to put all my eggs in one basket and contribute a novella, which worked out well as a balance with what the other ‘daughters’ contributed. It’s called The Spider and the Stag and is a mysterious tale of grief, set in the Trossachs, Scotland. As with most of my work, it contains an element of magical realism. The story was inspired by a dream. I urge anyone who reads it to pause at the first description of the stag in the lake and think about it, for that image is precisely what I dreamed. This is not unusual for me. Since childhood I’ve had powerful and imaginative dreams, including the recurring and terrifying sort, and have learned to utilize this part of my psyche to my advantage to inspire story ideas.
Q: Do you have any fun details you can share about working with editors Stephanie Ellis and Alyson Faye?
A:The poor mothers! (If we’re the daughters, they must be the mothers, right?) They’re both so used to me setting my stories in Wales (which I do around 90% of the time) that they ended up describing the setting as being Welsh on the original book blurb! Fortunately, it was spotted and they were able to correct it before it was finalized, though by then it had already been tweeted.
Also, because we get on so well, we have a little chat group where we set the world to rights. I suppose it’s a modern-day version of women on the doorstep.
Q: What are your thoughts on their Black Angel imprint and what do you hope to see from them in the future?
A:I truly hope they go from strength to strength and can’t wait to see who the next contributors will be. What suited me most about this invite was that there was no particular theme; they gave each of us free rein, an opportunity to showcase what we were about as individuals.
Q: You’ve recently released ‘Immortelle’ through Off Limits Press. What can you share about the title with us?
A:Immortelle is a novella which is set just north of Llangrannog in the hamlet of Mwnt, West Wales. The tiny white-washed church, set on the cliff-top, features largely in the story. Immortelle is essentially a Gothic ghost story, published by Off Limits Press July 2021. Reviews have compared it to Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst, which I take as a huge compliment.
Throughout Wales, and especially in more untouched regions such as where I now live, Victorian immortelles can still be found in graveyards. Intended as permanent memorials to the dead, they consist of ceramic flowers, birds, cherubs and such like. The memorials are arranged on a base and covered with a glass dome before being placed on the graves of the deceased. Such things appeal to my macabre nature, and for this story I imagined a ceramicist who begins to create customized immortelles as a means of coming to terms with the suspicious death of her daughter.
I’ll give you the blurb and let you judge for yourself:
When Elinor’s daughter, Rowena, is found poisoned and dead in an animal trough, Elinor is sure the local parish priest is to blame.
A ceramic artist by trade and influenced by her late grandmother’s interest in supernatural magic, Elinor crafts an immortelle for Rowena’s grave and attempts to capture the girl’s spirit in the clay model of a starling. Soon she is inundated with requests for immortelles and the more immersed in the craft she becomes, the greater her powers grow.
As the dead share their secrets with grieving Elinor, she learns the sordid truth of what happened to her beloved daughter and plots a revenge so hideous, it must be kept a secret forever.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A:I was born and bred in the South Wales Valleys and it has had a huge influence over my writing. As a writer, my surroundings provide a wealth of opportunity for stories. As a child, the industrial landscape of the valleys, with its many coal mines (almost all of which are now closed), was pretty bleak. Both Immortelle and Mists and Megaliths, as well as a YA novel I’m querying (The Wolf and the Favour) are set exclusively in Wales. It’s in my heart, my veins; Wales and its culture seeps through my pores, tinged iron ore red and speckled with black coal dust.
Q: You’ve had multiple short stories released over the years, which is your favorite and where can we find it?
A:I suppose we shouldn’t have favourites, it feels like choosing a favourite child, but we’re only human. My favourite short to date is Coblynau, which can be found in my collection, Mists and Megaliths. Judging by reviews it’s also a lot of other people’s favourite, especially those who are a little older perhaps, and have experienced what it’s like to care for someone who has become vulnerable through ill-health. I’ll give you an introduction to the story:
Coblynau are the underground spirits of Wales, mythical goblin-like creatures which haunt mines and quarries. They can be mischievous, often hiding tools and other belongings. Coblynau: rarely seen, but often heard. Their knocking alerts miners to rich seams of coal or metal, but they also knock to warn of imminent disaster such as flood or a fall. To mark the approaching death of a miner, they knock three times, loud and firm.
I’m a little too young (just) to remember the Aberfan disaster which featured in the Netflix series, The Crown. However, the tragedy struck just a few miles from where I was brought up, and, like J.F.K’s assassination or 9/11, no-one forgets where they were when they heard the news.
At Aberfan, days of relentless rain caused 150 000 tonnes of coal sludge to avalanche onto the primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults. An uncle of mine who worked underground helped with the rescue effort. Those were the kind of stories I grew up with. And those are the kind of stories that stick.
In February 2020, Storm Dennis hit Wales, triggering another landslip, again on a former coal tip. Fortunately the slip occurred away from residences, yet many were reminded of the Aberfan disaster.
Cobylnau is an amalgamation of the factual events outlined above and mythical elements. It is a story I have a strong emotional attachment to, one dedicated to my uncle Jacky, a former miner.
Q: Have you written any characters that you’d love to revisit down the line?
A:I’ve already done so once or twice with previous stories. For example, Bartholomew Brockett, one of the first characters I ever invented who appears in my middle grade novel, also makes an appearance in the final story in my collection Door and other twisted tales, and that’s because he’s a ‘guardian of portals’. I also have a character named Rhiamon, a witch of the woods, who appears both in one of my WIP’s (The Wolf and the Favour) and also in my short story, Y Ceffyl Dŵr (The Water Horse): my contribution to the recently published anthology, Were Tales: A Shapeshifter Anthology by Brigids Gate Press.
Q: Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
A:I’d like to say it’s been a pleasure working with everyone involved in Daughters of Darkness II, both editors and my fellow ‘sisters’.
If you enjoy my portion of the anthology, I’d love you to take a look at my novella, Immortelle, and my most recent short story collection, Mists and Megaliths, both of which are written with a similar vibe, i.e. quiet horror/folklore, and a sprinkle of magical realism.
You can follow Catherine McCarthy’s work below!