Lancaster nostalgia: childhood love of stories has never left

Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer
Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer

Catherine Simpson’s schooldays have played an important part in her life.

The former Winmarleigh Primary School pupil is starting the year on a high note after publishing her debut novel, Truestory.

Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer

Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer

Although her home is now near Edinburgh, with journalist husband Marcello and her two daughters, her Lancastrian roots are never far from mind.

She was brought up on a Winmarleigh dairy farm, attending the village school and the local secondary, now Garstang Academy.

Catherine, now aged 51, first worked as a civil servant before retraining as a journalist at the former Preston Polytechnic (now encompassed into the University of Central Lancashire), later taking a degree in journalism at Birmingham.

She recalls: “Life at Winmarleigh Primary School in the late 60s/early 70s was life in another era.

Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer

Sonja Astbury speaks to Catherine Simpson, a writer whose young days storytelling at a Lancashire school has shaped her career as a writer

“We worked at wooden desks with ink wells. We had long blue quills to dip in the ink wells and an ‘ink monitor’ to fill them.

“When you needed a new piece of pink blotting paper, you lined up at Mrs Darlington’s desk with the old piece to show that every inch had been used.

“The girls were taught embroidery. If the back of the sewing wasn’t as neat as the front you were told to unpick it and start again.

“We didn’t do foreign languages or team sports or science, but boy could I do a Lazy Daisy Stitch!”

There were only 45 pupils in the whole school while she was a pupil, but now the school is even smaller with a little over two dozen on the roll.

However,the most singular important thing about Winmarleigh School for Catherine was the love of storytelling. She said: “Every morning we were told a story from the Bible which we then had to retell and illustrate in our jotters.

“The stories were very dramatic; of prodigal sons and burning bushes, of famine, pestilence and miracles.

“I’m not religious, but they were good stories with unforgettable characters.

“We were encouraged to write a diary and to make up our own stories. I remember my best friend, Alex, and I staying in at playtime to 
create scrolls of ghost stories on rolls of paper towels! Before home time we were read to by Mrs Darlington.

“I remember her cut glass tones reading The Water-Babies and Aesop’s Fables plus Beatrix Potter’s The Pie and the Patty Pan – a story I couldn’t concentrate on for wondering what the heck a ‘Patty Pan’ was.

“This love of storytelling never left me and I eventually trained as a journalist. When I was in my mid-40s I studied creative writing and in 2015 my first novel, Truestory, was published – it’s a family story based in a village very similar to Winmarleigh.

“I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life and for it to suddenly come true when you are 51 is quite hard to believe. I wrote as a child, but I didn’t show it to anybody.

“Then I became a journalist because that’s one acceptable way to write for a living.”

She took up creative writing seriously in her 40s, studying her craft and 
attending courses run by the Open University.

The opening chapters of her book won a Scottish New Writers Award in 2013 and she has been listed in many writing competitions. Catherine’s short stories have been included in anthologies and she has performed her work at a number of festivals, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

See more at www.catherine-simpson.co.uk/