Natasha Carthew is a country writer, hailing from Cornwall. Her first novel, Winter Damage, was shortlisted for several national awards, including the Branford Boase Award in 2014. Her second book, The Light That Gets Lost, has received critical praise and saw The Telegraph’s Toby Clements describe her prose as having “a startling ferocity”.
Her debut adult novel ‘All Rivers Run Free’ tells the tale of a young woman in a near-future dysopian Cornwall find a girl washed ashore. Interweaving mental health, resilience, motherhood, and marginalisation together, the story is beautiful, imaginative, and a treasure to behold.
We caught up with Natasha to talk about the book and its themes, queer writers, and why she’s such a fan of writing outdoors in the wild.
In your own words, can you tell us a bit about ‘All Rivers Run Free’ and the character of Ia?
‘All Rivers Run Free’ is a story about the harsh reality of rural poverty and social deprivation set against the beautiful Cornish landscape. It’s an empathy driven story about grief, guilt and isolation, a story that says something important about the human condition.
With Ia I wanted to create a character that the reader could root for from the start, a woman who despite living in a lonely, abusive relationship, finds pleasure in small things and never gives up hope despite a lifetime of adversity. She is a woman stuck in stasis, a woman who has lost family in the past and through her unborn babies has lost her future family; she sees no way out so she creates an alternative.
When writing the book it was important to me to explore both the perception of reality and what was imagined and the fine line that runs between. We understand why Ia creates an ideal fantasy life with Geeva because of all she has been through, a lifetime lived tethered between guilt and grief, she crafts a world to shield herself from hurt.
The book takes on a lot of important topics, such as marginalisation and motherhood. Was it a conscious decision to cover such topics? They’re both very timely talking points in the news at the moment.
It was a conscious decision to have marginalisation as a central topic. As a writer from a marginalised background; gay, working class and an ethnic minority (Cornish) it is important to me to write truthfully and compassionately. Folk who are banished from society for whatever reason is at the core of all my writing. I’m not interested in the norm, the average; writing about disadvantage, mental illness, deprivation, that’s really where my writing is at. I love characters that have something to say, have complex personalities and are driven against all odds to find a way through the dark no matter what.
As soon as I found Ia’s voice, I knew motherhood was important to her, she needed somebody to belong to and them to her, motherhood also became key to unlocking her past.
‘All Rivers Run Free’ finds the perfect balance between heartache and uplifting emotion. How do you work out the right balance between emotions?
I’m a very emotional person, so it comes naturally to write the way I do because I feel what my characters are feeling so intensely. There’s no black and white when writing emotions, only a rainbow.
Queer novels seem to be having quite the surge of popularity at the moment. Why do you think we are seeing this?
We have the best stories!
Are there any particular queer voices and authors at the moment that stand out for you?
Kristen Arnett. She’s an American short story writer and you’ve got to tell everybody about her, she’s incredible! (@Kristen_Arnett)
You’re a big advocate for writing outdoors, regardless of the weather. How does this have an impact on your writing?
I’m drawn to the outside countryside around me out of necessity. It’s a way to clear my head and immerse myself fully with the world that my characters inhabit.
I write outside in the Cornish countryside and for ‘All Rivers Run Free’ I spent a lot of time writing by the River Tamar (which is the river in the book) and beside the River Lynher where I live, for me this is really important in order to get the descriptive parts of the book right, as well as the freedom that isolation affords.
Do you have a particular weather element of choice for getting into the zone?
A cold, frozen landscape, it concentrates the mind.
You also host your own Wild Writing Workshops. How important is it for writers to step away from the bubble of city life and leave our computers behind?
We spend our lives looking at the world through screens; TV’s, computers, windows in houses and cars and buses and through these screens it’s like we are bystanders, watching the world go by. Writing outside makes us better writers and there are two reasons for that, the first reason is FREEDOM. There are no electronic distractions, no other voices except the murmur of strangers to help you escape to whichever world you want. Writing outside also helps to clear the head and helps you focus.
The second reason for writing outside is INSPIRATION. You can be inspired by your surroundings no matter where you are and a city is as wild as a jungle, crammed full of interesting animals and locations that can inspire and lead to greater stories, what you see is only the beginning. A million different things can stimulate your senses, evoke memories and ultimately free your wild mind.
Your personal story is very inspirational in that you self-started your writing from an early age. How has this helped you in your career? Any valuable life lessons?
Life is the lesson. Writing from a young age means observing and recording is second nature to me. I can recall whole conversations that I have observed from years back and this comes in handy when I’m creating characters and writing dialogue. The same is true of other people’s stories, if you spend your life listening and watching you start to collect every nuance, the twitch of an eye the stumble over a word the moment a memory surfaces and a tear falls. People say to become a better writer you need to read other writers, but I think it’s about observation; observation leads to empathy, which is the number one thing a writer can’t do without.
To anyone seeking out a writing career, what piece of advice would you give to them?
Three Pieces of advice:
- Always write for yourself. If your writing makes you hold your breath and your heart beat out of your chest you’re doing something right.
- Don’t share your writing with anyone; have faith in yourself, other people don’t know if it’s any good but you do, so ask yourself over and over until you keep answering yes, then send it out.
- Don’t study creative writing at University, who wants to write like everybody else? Study other things, crazy things, if you want to spend thousands on education study English Literature, History, Religion, push yourself. Do loads of jobs that have you mixing with different age, social, ethnic groups – Start living and stop worrying and prepare to hustle, writing is a hard job (it’s also the best!)