Alison Irvine – Q&A

Cat Step by Alison Irvine was published by Cinder House on 5 November 2020.

Alison kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Cat Step.

Cat Step is about Liz whose decision to leave her four-year-old daughter Emily sleeping in the car while she nips into the Co-op sets off a spiral of events that begin to unravel her. This one incident calls into question her parenting, her future plans and also her memories of Emily’s dad.

She’s a former dancer and has come to the home village of her daughter’s dad to make a fresh start. The story follows her attempts to find work and make friends and piece together a mystery about her partner’s childhood, all in the shadow of this one mistake that she can’t shake off.

The book is about motherhood and the oftentimes fraught relationship between a parent and a child; how things can turn on a sixpence from tantrum to tenderness, fondness to fury. It’s about judgement and parenting, intergenerational friendship, the isolation that parents can sometimes feel, and the desire to protect and provide for your child.

It’s been described as a page-turner and a kind of literary thriller, which I was pretty pleased about.

2. What inspired the book?

It began with that very strong ‘what if’ idea. What would happen if you left your child in the car and something happened? I wanted Liz to make a judgement call that any parent might make: my child is sick, she’s finally fallen asleep, she needs Calpol, I’ll leave her in the car, I’ll only be five minutes.

I think I was interested in that kind of parenting dilemma and decision because I began the book when my kids were quite small and I’d just taken on a job that involved dropping the kids at school and nursery and then hot-footing it in the car to the other side of the city to make it to work on time. I felt as if I was living on a bit of a knife-edge and there wasn’t much wriggle room if anything was to go wrong. It’s on that knife edge that a person can make decisions that they might not necessarily take when they’re under less pressure.

The area I was travelling to was in the shadow of the beautiful Campsie Fells just outside Glasgow and as I approached them each time, I couldn’t get over how stunning they looked, appearing differently in sun or snow or cloud. I knew I wanted to set the book by the Campsie Fells. I just needed to work out what the rest of the story would be!

Lastly, I had a good friend from school who trained as a dancer and went to work on cruise ships and I thought that was just the most glamorous and fabulous thing. So, I was pretty much living vicariously through her when I made my protagonist a dancer who used to travel the world doing shows on cruise ships.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I’m definitely not a plan, plan, plan writer and sometimes I think it would be far easier if I was! As mentioned, I had a very clear ‘what if?’ idea of how the book would start, where to set it and who it would be about, but I had to work out the story as I wrote it and then I did loads of editing; either cutting some scenes or filling in the gaps by writing whole new sections.

I do agree with those writers who say that ideas ‘come to them’ as they’re writing. That’s sometimes the case with me and I’m always glad of those moments of inspiration.

When I was writing Cat Step I had some very timely conversations with a social worker and a former policeman who gave me pointers and told me whether or not some of the ideas I had would actually happen. So I was glad I had those conversations before I got too far into the writing and editing. Although I had to do a fairly swift rewrite of one of the scenes in the book when a writer friend with a legal background told me, Sorry, that would never happen…

4. Having been through the publishing process before, is there anything about the process of publishing a book that still surprises you?

It’s always a rush at the last minute! No matter how finished you think a book is, there’ll always be things you’ll want to rewrite.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’ve always loved running. I’m not particularly fast but I do my local park run with my crazy working cocker spaniel on the lead (she gives me a little help up the hills).

I like to take the kids to the beach. Living in Glasgow we’re not far from some beautiful sandy beaches in Ayrshire.

I like going to the theatre, and reading, of course. And I like football too. I support Spurs and, being an Essex/East London girl in Scotland, I cheer on both England and Scotland which is a bit of a paradox, but there you go.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

Home by Marilynne Robinson. A masterclass in fiction writing. Delicately drawn characters, intense emotions, beautiful, powerful, strong writing.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Do you know, I’ve not been asked many questions because I’ve not had many Q&As or interviews! My book came out in 2020 during the pandemic and just before Christmas. I was lucky enough to have author Bethany Rutter of What Page Are you On? podcast do an Instagram Live book launch with me and I had an event at Glasgow’s Aye Write book festival in 2021. I also had some

lovely print and blog reviews and was an Editor’s Pick on Radio 4’s Open Book, so I’m definitely not complaining. But I think my answer to this question would be, I would love some more questions please, any questions!

Which brings me to thank you for the chance to answer your questions. I’m very pleased and grateful.

About the Book

She only left her daughter in the car for a minute. Just a quick minute whilst she ran into the shop. She barely thought twice about making that decision, but it soon began to consume her every thought. And not just her thoughts, but those of every neighbour, police and social security worker in a fifteen mile radius . This is her child. Surely she knows best? After making the move to a small town in Scotland the rolling hills and blustery beaches seemed to be the perfect backdrop for her and her four year-old daughter, Emily, to start again, to mend and move on. It isnt always easy just the two of them, but Liz is sure that she can manage. She hasnt been entirely honest, though, not with herself or her new friends. Will they be as supportive once they realise who she is? Sometimes, one mistake is all it takes to unravel everything.


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