Meet Cathie Hartigan

Meet Cathie Hartigan

Cathie Hartigan has been on the committee of the Exeter Literary Festival since planning for the inaugural event began in 2017. As a director of the Creative Writing Matters team she shares responsibility for the annual Exeter Novel Prize – an international literary award culminating in an award ceremony here in the city. Cathie is now a trustee of the Festival and our programme director.

If that means you put the programme together, my starting point must be to ask about how this is done – so let me ask you two questions at once:  Do you approach authors or do authors approach you? How do you balance the programme in terms of fiction, non-fiction, debut authors, non-author focused and self-publishing events?

My experience so far suggests that it is a mixture of all the things you mention and in some ways I see my job as making order out of potential chaos. I begin with a blank timetable and following a great many conversations and emails with publishers, authors and my colleagues on the committee, it begins to fill up. I keep an eye on the publishing industry to find out what’s new, or where publishers are going to focus their marketing campaigns. The aims of the Exeter Festival are wide-ranging but I think it’s important to present panels, talks and workshops under thematic umbrellas. These can be very large umbrellas! Crime, for example, is a huge genre, and there are a great many authors and readers to represent, whereas a workshop on writing your memoir or for the commercial women’s fiction market, will have a much more limited reach.

We should have programme that is wide-ranging, informative, entertaining, and fun with something for everyone.

Aside from ExeLitFest, what is your favourite festival you have attended and why?

I’ve always enjoyed myself at the Budleigh Salterton Festival. It’s very well organised, the venues work for the events they put on. It’s a very attractive setting, and they have good speakers. It’s a small town and the sense is that the whole population turns out with enthusiasm.

What have been your personal highlights of the Exeter Literary Festival over the past years?

Two events occur to me straight away. Firstly, the privilege of seeing some of the author archives at the University Library, including work by Ted Hughes, Agatha Christie and William Golding amongst others, and listening to the authoritative and entertaining talk about them from Professor Tim Walker. Secondly, the four poets from Dorset who filled the room with not only laughter but also rapt silence. Afterwards, I overheard someone say ‘Well, I’ve never been on the edge of my seat at a poetry reading before’, to which her friend replied, ‘They ought to be on the radio. Wonderful.’ I hope both these events will rerun next year.

I’ve been on quite a few panels, both as an author and chair, and for the most part they have been happy occasions. I love meeting readers of my books, and as a reader I love meeting the author – but of course, there is always someone whose question isn’t really a question, but quite a lengthy opinion, or a quibble about the use/loss of the Oxford comma. The venue matters too – I’m never going to give another talk in a room which is in effect a corridor to the toilets!

Exeter has both a fine literary heritage and an exciting and energetic contemporary literary scene. The city has four important libraries with nationally significant archives. So much to celebrate, and what better way is there than by supporting the festival?

With lockdown coming to an end, what are your thoughts on our doing something in 2020?

I am optimistic we may be able to hold perhaps an event to highlight our presence in the city, but of course, we would have to make safety our paramount consideration. It’s too early for us to make any promises.

Finally, give us some recommended reading, do you have a couple of titles you can share?

Only two recommendations? That won’t do! The most recent two books I have read are Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light – a masterpiece – and another masterpiece, but almost a novella in comparison is Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Torkarczuk. It doesn’t have the cheeriest of titles, but trust me, I did laugh. Lastly, I’m now reading something entirely different, the latest spy caper by Mick Herron. I love the whole series but best to start with Slow Horses.

Creative Writing Matters was founded in 2009 and will be of interest to writers and teachers of creative writing and to readers.

The site aims to offer encouragement, advice and opportunities to fellow writers through appraisals, a mentoring service and competitions. Of interest to readers, the team behind it consists of three successful novelists: Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James and Sophie Duffy. Information about their work can also be found on the site.