On a White Horse charts the story of the relationship between two people, Cathy a struggling artist and Dan, a burgeoning entrepreneur and publisher, how they met by chance in a pub off Carnaby Street in the early 1990s and how their relationship was to flourish for nearly a quarter of a century until Dan’s untimely death from bowel cancer at the age of fifty eight.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
I am going to have to cheat on this one. It is impossible for me to hone my answer to one place so I will instead offer two.
Firstly I would have to say my studio. First thing in the morning, armed with a strong coffee and sense of great expectation. Here, I am temporarily released from the chores of daily life and thrown into a state of much greater possibility. There are times when I am excited by the prospect of creating something new and also phases of struggle and even disappointment when something has gone wrong. The older I become, the less I worry about peer pressure or judgement. These days it is so much more about seeking truth than approval. The feeling of being ‘in the flow’ as the amateur psychologist in me would say, is quite simply the best. The happiest I can be. Lest you are conjuring up the image of an adult ‘enfant sauvage’ operating in some depraved state of abandon, I usually work in layers of M&S leisure wear accompanied by the never ending cacophony of day time T.V. I find Eamonn Holmes and his wife particularly convivial and so much less distracting than music. Of any kind.
Secondly I would choose Formentera which is a small island off Ibiza. I must have visited this beautiful place over ten times with my late husband Daniel and it is for this reason that it is unlikely that I will ever have the emotional resilience to return. Perhaps it is better that the azure waters, the pungent aromas of the pine forests at dusk and the ‘challenge’ of consuming fresh lobster at Fonda Raffelet will forever be consigned to my dreams.
When writing, do you have any distractions?
I work in a small room in my house which I call my office. I am sitting here now as I write this. There is a large picture window directly in front of me which is inadequately screened by a very tastefully patterned blind to cut out the midday sun. Such is it’s inadequacy that I am prone to wearing sun glasses through out the day.
Earlier, I could hear some building work going on from outside. Fortunately the repeated banging was merely acoustic – perhaps someone erecting a fence? – so not too troubling. My biggest annoyance on this front, has to be those garden hoover’s which are activated so readily by my neighbours during the Autumn months. These can be distracting, as are the police helicopters that hover above when searching for some less than perfect individual. This I can actually find diverting rather than distracting.
Worse are the files and administrative paraphernalia all around me and the temptation to attend to paying bills and any number of mind numbing chores including attempts to address the disgustingly sticky patina of my keyboard. Thus I am sometimes compelled to make a deal with the devil in order to prioritise what I have really come here to do. Note to self – relocate PC to somewhere else. Anywhere!
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Quite simply, pain. Mine and his. Retrospective and current.
How do you think this book might help others?
After Daniel died, I read a lot of books. This was in between variously being terribly efficient and drinking too much vodka. It helped me a lot, even though half of them were very annoying. Grief is such an individual experience. There is no ‘one size fits all’. Some were too intellectual, some woefully unemotional, too sentimental, too clever. I could go on. Death is the new sex it would seem. That said, I would defy any bereaved person not to be moved and assisted by ‘A grief remembered ‘ by C.S Lewis and when I could truly identify with something that I had read, the effect was nothing short of miraculous.
So it was with this knowledge that I decided to set out my own story. Maybe I could help someone else? Maybe one sentence, one observation, might relieve the loneliness in another. Maybe my book could be part of that little collection that grew beside my bed. The ‘stand in’s’ for the friends that couldn’t understand.
Was the editing process of this book difficult?
My book is self published and for this reason the process of editing was relatively simple. Having amicably parted company with my agent, I simply forged ahead with telling my story in the way that I felt it had to be told. I understand that some agents require multiple re writes, root and branch alterations and in some cases, piratical ransacking of the original text. This would not have suited me. I was only ever interested in writing the book that I wanted to write. Obstinate I know, but undeniably authentic.
6. Lastly, what is your favourite book at the moment?
The book I am reading at the moment is called ‘Loss of Dreams’ by Ted Bowman. Actually it is more of a pamphlet than a book, being only thirty eight pages long. I picked it up at a conference for Cruse Bereavement Care.
The central thesis is, that the resolution of grief necessarily requires mourning for the future in equal measure to the past. Such a simple requirement but quite, quite revolutionary.
It is beautifully written and so full of hope.
Cathy Phelan-Watkins was born in Portsmouth in 1963. She studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College; her work has been exhibited at galleries across the UK including at Tate St Ives, where she has served on the advisory board and as chair of the Tate St Ives members committee, working to further public engagement and understanding of contemporary art. She is director of Civil Society Media, the leading publisher within the charity sector. In 2016 the film maker Peter Bach made a documentary about the creation of the horse, After Daniel www.on-a-white-horse.co.uk. She lives and works in Clapham.