Fi Read talks to writer and musician Catrina Davies to find out what led her to write her debut novel Ribbons are for Fearlessness. Catrina will be launching her memoir with words and music at Waterstones Truro on April 10 as part of Truro Festival.
Blink and you’ll miss it. A wriggly tin shack at Polgigga, tucked on a bend of the B3315, is home to Catrina Davies: Cornish writer musician, DJ, surfer and adventurer.
With three guitars, a cello, keyboard, DJ decks, sound system, stacks of vinyl records, six surfboards, and hundreds of books to accommodate as well, small-space living requires a certain order and discipline. So does writing. A desk in one corner invites purposeful creativity: laptop poised open at the ready, a hot-pink filing cabinet, scattered notes, fresh-cut flowers, sunlight streaming through the door.
“It’s a good place to work. Cold, but not nearly as cold as before the woodburner was fitted,” shares Cat, who ten years ago swapped living in a tent at Whitesands for the luxury of corrugated walls and a roof. Apart from regular surf trips, a short stint in Bristol – oh, and an epic year-long journey busking her way to Knivsjellodden (the most northerly point in Europe) to see the midnight sun, then back down the west coast as far as Sagres in Portugal – she’s been here ever since.
“I did the journey eight years ago, wrote a draft which was really long (250,000 words), did a second draft, sacked it off for a few years, then realised I had to finish it,” she laughs. Five drafts, numerous rejections, eventual pick-up by an agent and publishing contract with Summersdale later, and The Ribbons Are For Fearlessness hit the bookshops on March 3.
Looking to escape the pain of a relationship bust-up and a dead-end job, Cat originally planned the trip with a dear friend. But his tragic death left her reeling and with two choices: stay put, or go it alone. She went, and her book charts the tough territories of love, loss and fortitude she encountered along the way.
“It was so full-on, totally destabilising,” she admits. “Here we were at an age when we thought we were invincible, and death didn’t exist. So I wrote what happened, but made it a story. In life, the truth gets hidden; with a story you’re able to reveal that truth.
“Writing Ribbons proved a steep learning curve. Trying to maintain the energy, investing in something that may never have an outcome or a reward – it was a huge leap of faith to keep going.”
Believing that self-doubt is an essential part of quality control, keep going she did, and her grit and determination paid off. Not content to ease up on her workload, Cat recently recorded an EP. Produced by Richard Blackborow, the six original tracks complement the book, but can equally stand alone. Joined by a bevy of talented musicians, the end result is breathtakingly beautiful; her voice as heartfelt and captivating to the ear as it is on the page.
“I started writing songs while I was away,” she explains. “It was therapy, self-preservation. It was never about sharing them, more about dealing with the pain. For me, songs are compressed stories. The book is a really developed song in my mind, so I wanted my readers to be able to hear it.
“Sharing songs you’ve written is such a risk. They’re important to me so there’s a lot at stake, but the whole point of art is making connections, challenging the loneliness and alienation. It’s like surfing. If it’s too big out there, I have to stretch my comfort zone, chip away at it slowly rather than face a massive wave straight away.”
Writing and singing are acts of courage, as is living life to the full. It’s never about the money; money doesn’t drive this feisty, fearless soul. As long as there’s enough in the pot to fund the occasional surf trip to far-flung shores, she’s happy with that.
“You can’t have everything, but I’d rather have freedom and liberty. I’m lucky it’s an option. I’m going to be doing this – writing books and making music – forever.”
Catrina will also be at Newlyn Art Gallery on April 5, Strong Adolfo’s on April 13 and at the Falmouth Bookseller on April 29. To find out more about her and hear her music, visit www.catrinadavies.co.uk