In 2013 Catherine Finch reluctantly waved goodbye to Balderstone School to live in south west of France for a year
For Catherine Finch, living in France meant she would improve her French, join in with village life, enjoy the local cuisine and finally find space in her life to write a novel.
During 33 years as a primary school teacher, Catherine loved to write. She produced stories, plays and musicals for the children and found her audience to be unfailingly enthusiastic.
A relatively solitary activity, Catherine acknowledges that the written word is only that, unless it finds an audience, and authors need critical feedback. Catherine found this in a most surprising place – a neighbouring French village.
Parisot was already establishing itself as a cultural centre with French and English inhabitants working together to host events such as Festilitt, which attracts authors from all over France and the UK. A writing group had recently been formed and it was this circle of nine ex-pats who welcomed new member Catherine into their fold.
“The Parisot writing group are a vibrant, diverse and talented bunch,” Catherine explains.
“We meet regularly and critique our work, usually over coffee, sometimes a bottle of wine. Three members have published books, others, including myself, have won writing competitions. We encourage each other and share the successes. I couldn’t have written my novel without them.”
To date, there are two novels. Walking Apart is contemporary fiction set in the beautiful Ribble Valley, where the author has lived for most of her life. It explores the relationship between David and Helen, who are in their mid-fifties.
As the couple grapple with their marriage and the prospect of retirement, the local area provides a vibrant backdrop with scenes in Fellburn, a fictional village, Whalley, Clitheroe and the Lake District.
In an extract from the book, Simon, who leads the village school in Fellburn, reflects on the grandeur of Pendle Hill as he travels to work from Blackburn: ‘Pendle Hill was magnificent in all seasons. It dominated the skyline, sometimes white with snow or summer green with pasture, often wearing a thin shroud of drizzle and mist, its broad summit hidden from view. The legends of witchcraft were well-known locally, but Simon felt that the hill guarded the real truth.’
Simon and his staff are handed an unfair judgement upon their school, but find a local community of parents and friends ready to stand up to the opinions of outsiders and offer support.
A passionate advocate for allowing teachers the freedom to teach, Catherine gives no apology for using Helen, also a headteacher, as a voice for some of her feelings about primary education.
‘This job isn’t a science, it’s an art,’ Helen tries to explain to a young teacher in the book. Devastated by the comments of a particularly unfeeling Ofsted inspector, Helen adds: ‘You can’t follow a procedure and out pops learning, you have to feel it, adapt it, love it and hate it all in the same day.’
Unsurprisingly, the book is dedicated to, ‘All headteachers, teachers and their schools.’ Addressing them personally in her dedication, Catherine adds: ‘You are marvellous − don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.’
Catherine divides her time between Lancashire and Castanet, a small village in the Tarn et Garonne, where she lives with her husband, Gary. He potters about on his tractor as she sits in the shade with her laptop allowing her characters to shape their own destinies.
The author is delighted by how well her novel has been received with excellent reviews. The local setting, the issues facing the main characters and the portrayal of the challenges faced by primary schools, make the novel unique.
It has been described as, ‘A page turner with very believable characters,’ and, ‘A sensitively rendered story of a relationship at a crossroads.’
Many readers have requested a sequel and although this is only in the planning stages, Catherine is looking forward to working on it very soon.
Her second novel, Holding On Letting Go, is due to be published by the end of 2018. Although there are some links to areas of Lancashire, the story takes place in rural France. The issues facing an English family, who have emigrated, are explored through the narrative. While seemingly an ideal life in the sun, making a living running a gardening business and renting out their gites presents an ongoing challenge.
The first five Live Ribble Valley readers to contact Catherine will receive a personal signed copy of Walking Apart. The book is also available from Amazon as a Kindle download or in paperback.
You will find further information about Festilitt the Parisot Literary Festival at: www.festilitt.com