Carterton-based author and writing coach Catherine Cooper. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Helping inspire readers to become writers

Hayley Gastmeier

For Catherine Cooper, writing is the way in which she processes thoughts and makes sense of the world.

The Carterton mother, originally from Canada, has for the past two months been sharing her passion for literature with the community as the writer in residence at Carterton District Library.

The initiative, funded through the Creative Communities Scheme, has Catherine offering free one hour, one-on-one coaching sessions.

“I’ve mainly been helping people who need some direction to get started or restarted [on a project].”

Catherine, 37, has had two books published and is in the finishing stages of her second novel, which has been six years in the making.

So, not only does she know how hard the writing process can be, but also how therapeutic it is.

“The thing I find really cool about memoirs and autobiographies is in the end, after going through the whole process, people always see the outcome of the book as secondary to the process itself.

“They find the process really changes their perspective about what they’re writing about, and that can be really transformative, and can be more important than the outcome of the book.”

Catherine’s career as a writing coach happened somewhat fortuitously.

She had written about a personal experience and had shared it with friends, who shared it with their networks.

Then a woman who had read the work reached out, and from there, Catherine coached the woman, who has now written two books.

“It’s a really big privilege to be on that journey with somebody.”

She said people had different motivations for writing and, whether they were penning a story for themselves or their family, or had the intention of having a best seller, they would benefit through the doing.

“For me it’s a spiritual practice.”

Catherine said she was continually learning and finding a deeper meaning to life through her writing.

Her latest novel is nothing like what she had in mind when she started the book all those years ago.

“It started as non-fiction about drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes that use psychedelics to treat substance misuse disorders.

“Now it’s morphed into a love story with a science fiction element, and some Czech folk music in there too.”

She said a story often took on a life of its own.

“You have to let it work on you, rather than you working on it.

“You have to put in hard work and show up but it’s an interaction – it’s not just a matter of exerting your will upon it.”

Catherine said her stories were like a collage, made up of extensive historical research, life experiences, and pure fiction.

Her first book, The Western Home, tells the story of the folk song Home on the Range, while her first novel, White Elephant, is about a Canadian surgeon running a medical clinic in a Sierra Leonean village at the beginning of the civil war.

Catherine said writing a book wasn’t all about talent or skill, it was having discipline and the will to do the hard yards to get a result.

She said writing was a way in which one could work through personal stories in a fictional world.

And when it came to writer’s block, she said she used that time to be productive, freeing up the time for writing later when inspiration returned.

Wairarapa Library Service manager Anne Jackson said Catherine’s writer-in-residence programme had received lots of positive feedback.

“She has inspired new ideas for writers and encouraged them to write more.

“Having a writer in the library develops opportunities for library users to try something new and helps readers to become writers.”

Manu Menard, a teacher and therapist, said she had got a lot out of the sessions with Catherine.

“It has been extremely valuable to me as a budding writer.

“I’ve picked up specific skills and tips that you can only get from a practical one-on-one conversation as you bounce off ideas in a natural flow.”

Catherine’s free one-hour coaching sessions will continue at the Carterton District Library every Tuesday, 1.30-4.30pm, until December 10 (call or visit the library to reserve a spot).

Her next goal is to look into ways in which the programme can continue annually with a different writer in residence each time who could engage with the community in their own unique way.