Catherine Nelson was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, but moved to Europe in 2000. She has lived in Italy, Iceland and the UK before settling in Gent, Belgium in 2007. She currently splits her time between Gent – where she works and keeps a studio, and Amsterdam, where her partner lives. She used to work as a visual effects artist in the film industry but in 2010 left to dedicate her time fully to her own art practice. Nowadays she creates large-scale photo collage artworks which she exhibits in various galleries around the world, as well as doing commissions. She is currently working on one for a hotel in the Daintree in Australia, and another for a business park in Sydney. You can see images of some of her amazing pieces on her website. So how and why did this visual artist turn to words as a creative medium?
Tell us a bit about what has brought you to writing.
I never wanted to be a writer, but more so never thought I could be. I have spent a career avoiding words. For me, an artwork should be able to touch its viewer in some way beyond their thoughts and, in this way without the help of language. Also, I come from a family of avid readers and always felt I lagged behind them in my reading (always a couple of books behind) so over the years I convinced myself that I wasn’t a great reader and writing was therefore not ‘my thing’. That I find myself doing the IWC courses and so keen to keep writing is utterly surprising to me.
You’ve now done a few courses with the IWC. What was your biggest fear signing up the first time? What was the experience of being a returning student like, compared to your first course?
I had no fear about signing up for the first course, I embrace new experiences. On hikes, for example. if we come across a lake or a waterhole or any body of water, I will be the first to jump in. I am that person! Although since turning 50 that aspect of me has toned down quite a bit. I have enjoyed all the courses but when I took my second Level I, I felt that I was able to get more out of it because I understood what the course was trying to teach. Each course has a new set of exercises and sample pieces to study, and as the concepts were clearer for me the second time around, I was more confident to explore my writing through the exercises. What I have learnt the most from joining IWC is that writing is not a mystery, it is a craft that can be learnt.
What are you reading at the moment and what is your favourite novel?
I also enjoy the fact that the courses have made me a better reader, and I am confident that through my reading a lot of learning will happen. I have always read, but after a few IWC courses I read with more awareness- so thank you! At the moment I am reading Ishiguro – I have just finished Never Let Me Go and have started Klara and the Sun. I love the first-person narrator; there’s something courageous about using it and he is a master of it. As for my favourite book, it is hard to say. Books are like artworks, they don’t change, but you do, so over time my favourite books have changed. Having said that one does stand out – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I read it when I was in my early twenties having lived a carefree Sydney life. I was so profoundly moved by the book. It changed me.
What life experiences do you draw upon when crafting your writing?
Life is strange if you think about it. We rarely truly understand why we do the things we do the way we do them. Each of us is a unique and mysterious blend of cultural background, upbringing, experience and DNA. There are characters here in Gent that you would never find in Sydney, for example, and vice-versa. I had a wonderful mother who loved the quirks and contradictions in people (including in herself and in her family). She was also very observant and had a great sense of humour. I think I have inherited her curiosity and, like her, I enjoy all the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that make us human – writing is not only a way of making sense of it, but it also celebrates it.
Do you have any plans going forward with your writing?
I will continue doing the courses, and at some point I would like to start writing a novel. I have the bones of a story and have written a small piece but the commitment of it is utterly terrifying. If I can get a decent start on it this year or the next, I will be happy.
Hi Catherine, have you read A Little Life ? It’s a tough read but very well written. An amazing accomplishment by Hanya Yanagihara, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22822858-a-little-life. I have read each of the other books you have mentioned and mark them as books I’d return to. Currently I’ve completed reading ‘ Imagining The World’by M. John Harrison, his most recent publication. I will seek out more of his work. There’s so much, the problem is choosing! His style and focus is inspirational.
Thanks for telling your story !