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INTERVIEW: Catherine Curzon is a Plotter but Allows Leeway for Inspiration

Updated: Jan 29

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

I have been a fan of Catherine Curzon's historical biographies and her social media on Twitter as Madam Gilflurt for several years. Imagine my delight back in 2018 (or was it 2019?) when she said she was working on a project with actor Adrian Lukis (Mr. Wickham in the BBC 1995 Pride and Prejudice series), and she offered to hand deliver a copy of my anthology Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen's Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues to the man himself. Still a thrill to me.

CHRISTINA: When did you first think you had a book to write and how did you start?


CATHERINE: I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen, and though I wish I could tell you it was a work of precocious genius, it was actually a rambling, unedited stew of every horror trope I could bundle into one place. Though I wouldn’t ever let it see the light of day today, writing that novel proved to me that I could do it, even if I had a lot of crafting still to learn. Although, it wasn’t my finest hour, it was where I started. I like to think I’ve improved in the decades since that first effort! 

The Ration Book Baby: An utterly heart-wrenching and uplifting World War II saga (A Village at War). Published July 23, 2023

CHRISTINA: Ha! That's awesome. I am sure I wasn't writing a book at age seventeen.

Pantser or Plotter or hybrid?

CATHERINE: Plotter. My nonfiction writing is usually historical biography, so I don’t have a choice, but I also co-write bestselling World War II sagas with my friend, Helen, under the pen name Ellie Curzon, and we plot those too. Our "Village at War" series, published by Bookouture, tells the story of an English village during the war so it’s vital that we plot those novels in advance, both so we can ensure that we’re accurately reflecting the real history as well as constantly letting our village of Bramble Heath breathe and live for readers. We’ve created a community that people have really responded to, so by plotting our novels with great care, we are able to ensure that our readers can immerse themselves in the world of Bramble Heath. Of course, when we’re writing the novels, we allow ourselves some leeway in case inspiration strikes and takes us in a new direction, which happens pretty often. It’s always a real joy when it does, because it means our characters are telling their own story.


CHRISTINA: That's really smart. And makes total sense if working with another author.

What comes first, plot, or characters?

CATHERINE: There’s no hard and fast rule, but generally it’s characters. Both Helen and I have very rich inner lives which means we’re constantly popping with ideas for characters, and they usually suggest a scenario or plot to us as we get to know them. Because we’re writing for a series set in one location, it’s nice for us to be able to situate them straight into Bramble Heath and let the story unfold as we discuss the characters and their back stories. For me, getting to meet a new character and learn all about them is one of the greatest joys of writing. Even better, because I write with a partner, our characters can have actual improvised conversations on paper as we develop ideas, and we can bounce off one another in some really unexpected and inspiring ways.


CHRISTINA: Really impressive to see that once you've plotted the story, you allow for organic writing as well.

Is there one of your characters you most identify with and why?  

CATHERINE: Mr. Wyngate, the blunt, taciturn and beautifully dressed man from the Ministry. Though I like to think I’ve rather better developed social skills than his – and, sadly, a much less impressive wardrobe – we both like to get the job done and don’t necessarily suffer fools. On a more positive note, both Wyngate and I finish what we start and will stand by our friends to the end!


CHRISTINA: If you could tell your 21-year-old self anything, what would you share?

CATHERINE: That stomach-ache you’re going to get a few years from now is peritonitis… Don’t listen to the GP when she tells you it’s a food allergy! Because that would scare 21-year-old me silly. I’d also tell me that life is going to have its ups and downs, but it’s going to be a good ‘un in the long run. 

CHRISTINA: Good advice. If only our 21-year-old selves would listen...

What is your current project or latest release?

CATHERINE: Our latest Ellie Curzon release is The Spitfire Girl, the second in our "Village at War" series, but it can be read as a standalone too! We’re working on book three in the series, The Wartime Vet, and can’t wait to share it with readers next spring.


CHRISTINA: Ooh, that's exciting. Looking forward to it.

What do you love?

CATHERINE: Walking, writing, gaming, my family, my wee dog and Dean Martin (of course.)


CHRISTINA: What do you think makes a good story?

CATHERINE: Engaging characters, evocative locations and a plot that keeps the pages turning. It sounds so simple when I put it like that!


CHRISTINA: Favorite contemporary author?

CATHERINE: Anyone that knows me will not be in the least surprised to know that it’s Robert Harris and Julian Barnes.


CHRISTINA: What does literary success look like to you?

CATHERINE: To me, it looks like what I have, and that’s a very humbling realization. I’m fortunate enough to be a full-time author and earn a living doing what I love, both writing nonfiction and fiction. In all honesty, I work longer hours than I ever did when I was in a desk job, but I’m infinitely happier and more fulfilled. I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

CHRISTINA: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

CATHERINE: I love writing characters of the opposite sex and if you read our Ellie Curzon novels, the leading men are all written by me. I don’t know why it is, but I find writing men much easier than writing women. Perhaps it’s because I get to be a woman all the time, so when I step into the shoes of a male character, I can really inhabit that skin because it’s not something I get to do in day-to-day life.


CHRISTINA: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

CATHERINE: Finding the time to do it all. As well as my books I write articles and reviews for magazines, plus I have a thriving Twitter account, where I curate the popular #frockingfabulous hashtag. Luckily, I know how to juggle!


CHRISTINA: How long does it take you to write a book?

CATHERINE: For nonfiction, there’s a whole lot of research that differs with each new project, so it can be very difficult to quantify. When it comes to our novels though, Helen and I generally have a manuscript ready for our wonderful editor at Bookouture in about four months from the moment we write the first word to the moment we finish the final draft. We’ll then go through a few rounds of editing with Bookouture, during which we’ll refine and polish the novel, but we’re both super hard workers and love what we do. Though writing a novel is hard work, it’s also an enormous joy!

CHRISTINA: Thank you for your time. I am fascinated by the writing process, especially plotters. And the number of books you publish each year. Totally impressive. I look forward to your next this spring.


Catherine Curzon is a historian of the eighteenth century. She writes for Orion and Bookouture as Ellie Curzon, with Helen Barrell. Both Catherine’s historical biographies and her Ellie Curzon World War II sagas have achieved bestseller status.

Catherine has appeared on Radio 4's PM programme and has been heard on radio stations across Europe and the UK, as well as Dan Snow's Story of EnglandBetwixt the Sheets and a host of other prestigious podcasts. Her work has been featured online by BBC NewsBBC History Extra and the Daily Express, and in publications including All About HistoryWho Do You Think You Are?, and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Further afield, Catherine’s expertise has been featured by Smithsonian MagazineVanity FairThe Washington PostTown & CountryElle AustraliaDer BundLa Vanguardia, and Metrópoles, among others. 

She has spoken at venues including Kenwood House, Wellington College, the Royal Pavilion, the National Maritime Museum, and Dr. Johnson’s House. Catherine holds a master’s degree in film, and when not cheering for the Terriers, can be found by following the distant strains of Dean Martin. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish gent and a very woolly dog. 


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