A Cultural Lightning Rod: Interviewing Rural Romance and Erotica Author Catherine Evans

by Yvette Gilfillan

As an intern for the South Coast Writers Centre, I first met Catherine Evans at her ‘How to Write a Romance Novella’ workshop, held at Shellharbour City Library. On a Sunday afternoon, the venue was full of light, radiating around the curved shelves and filtering through the glass walls. White deck chairs were stationed along the meandering balcony, lit up against the colourful carpet, beanbags and bookshelves inside. It was warm and comfortable—a safe space.

Catherine Evans, who also goes by her erotica penname Cate Ellink, is anything but safe. She grew up in Sydney and moved to Wagga Wagga in her early 20s, always a country girl at heart. Growing up, she wasn’t afraid to be “one of the guys”—she was a tomboy who revelled in the challenges of sport, fishing, and the outdoors. After working for eighteen years in agricultural research and getting a Masters in Agriculture from CSU, Cath decided to do something completely outside of her comfort zone … but in line with her passions.

She joined Romance Writers of Australia in 2008, and ever since then, she’s been hooked. She now lives on the South Coast and has published several works with Escape Publishing, including her rural romance The Healing Season (2016), her erotic novella Lucky (2016), and her most recent ebook Long Game (2018)—book two of the Women of W.A.R. series (Women’s Aussie Rules).

It’s not often that you hear of a romance and erotica author with a background in environmental biology and agriculture. What motivated you to make the change and sign up with Romance Writers of Australia (RWA)? Has writing been something you’ve always loved?

I know it seems like an odd combination but there are quite a few STEM-trained romance writers in Australia, and some of Australian romance’s biggest names have STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) backgrounds.

My career change came about after a few hiccups in my life - drought and illness. Being diagnosed with Ross River Fever and Glandular Fever was when I had to stop and do something different - slowly and quietly while I recovered. I’d always enjoyed writing, so I thought I’d try my hand at creative writing, which I’d always enjoyed but rarely shared. After years of science-writing, I needed lots of help to loosen up and be creative. RWA offered individual feedback, a huge amount of industry information, and had a network that covered Australia. This was perfect because so many writing groups were in big cities and I wasn’t well enough to travel.

What was your experience like trying to get published in the competitive industry of romance writing, and what advice can you give emerging writers?

I wrote for a couple of years without any help or feedback, overly confident about my abilities. As an avid reader, I thought I knew about books and writing. In 2008 I joined RWA and learned how much I didn’t know! My advice for emerging writers is to join writing groups, particularly for the specific area you’re writing, and learn all you can. There’s so much to learn, I don’t think I’ll ever stop discovering things.

What’s it like living a double life of being a rural romance author and an erotica author? Do you find you can explore a different side of yourself with each genre? Have you faced any stigma when telling your friends or families what you write?

I enjoy writing in both genres. Romance promises a Happy Ever After, or a Happy For Now ending so when I write rural romance or erotic romance, I have to deliver that. Sometimes I want to write a wild scene without a happy ending and erotica allows for that. Erotica also lets me play with words and sounds.

I try to keep my rural romance ‘clean’ because many of my family and friends are horrified about sex and swearing.

My biology study was instrumental in me seeing sex as a natural act, so I don’t get squeamish or worried writing sex. And I really loathe purple prose that’s long been associated with writing sex—euphemisms like swords and flower petals. I’m rather ‘in your face’ with my descriptions, and I try not to be too scientific.

I often don’t tell people what I write. There’s a ‘low brow’ stigma attached to genre writing, and especially romance, and that’s without bringing in the sex issue. <grin> If people find out, they’re often shocked, but I have had some reactions that were quite upsetting. People can be cruel, and personally attacking, in their criticisms of art. I try not to let it bother me too much. I love what I do, and that’s enough for me.

Your latest novella Long Game was an awesome, badass story that brought awareness to the Aussie Rules Football Women’s League, a professional league that began in February 2017. Cress Kennedy is a female protagonist with a passion for footy, who strives to remain unaffected by the glamour and media pressure surrounding elite athletes. Her love interest, Quin, moved to Sydney at a young age to play men’s AFL and has become hardened by the expectations placed on his career and personal life.

The foil characterisation between Cress and Quin made for a very interesting dynamic. Was this tension between their personalities something you envisaged from the beginning? How do you feel their differing experiences influenced the people they became by the end of the novella?

Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

When I begin a story, I don’t plan or outline, I write to meet my characters and get an idea of the story I want to tell (I’m not advocating this method, it’s just what I do). Cress was quite clear in my mind, but the hero wasn’t there at all. After my first rough draft, I still didn’t have Quin worked out. I had to send my draft to a friend and ask what was missing. Initially, Quin wasn’t a footy player but one of the themes I wanted to discuss was the comparison between female and male sport. To show that difference, Quin needed to be a footy player. Once I changed that, he jumped off the page and the story felt better.

A lot of story construction in a romance relies on the character arc of the hero and heroine—their change through the story. Cress became tougher, more confident, and less naïve, which allowed her to hold her own in a relationship with Quin. He may have had more of a change through opening himself up and trusting someone.

How important was it for you to represent a strong, athletic female character who was just as good—if not better—than the guys?

That was my primary goal. I’m not interested in reading about wimpy women. I want to read about strong, confident women, so I always try to write that way. Plus, have you watched women’s sport? They’re all so strong and amazingly fit.

Did you have any experience playing AFL growing up? What was your research process like for writing this work?

I wish! When I was a kid, I wanted to play footy but girls didn’t do that. I’m no athlete but I’ve tried to play most sports, because I love sport.

I’m lucky to have a friend who’s played Aussie Rules all his life so I had a LOT of help from him. Nicola Marsh, who wrote one of the other books in the W.A.R series, is a Melbourne girl and a footy tragic, so she was great too. I’d avidly watched the first two seasons of the Women’s AFL, and I may stalk a few players on social media.

Your ‘How to Write a Romance Novella’ workshop at Shellharbour City Library—presented in conjunction with the South Coast Writers Centre—was amazing. What was the experience of teaching a workshop like for you?

Thanks, Yvette. From my perspective, it was amazing too. There was a fantastic bunch of writers who asked lots of questions, participated in the writing exercises, and were incredibly respectful when everyone shared their words.

There was a diversity of ages, writing experiences, backgrounds, and interests which made for great discussions. And I was pleased to see men and women attend the workshop. Too often romance is brushed aside as just a female thing, so it’s great when men attend events. The three hours went quickly. I learned a lot and came home inspired to write…and to hold more workshops.

If you would love to meet Catherine Evans in-person, she will be presenting a second romance writing workshop on the 24th of November at the Wollongong Writers Festival, from 11 am – 2 pm at Wollongong Town Hall.

Read more about Catherine’s upcoming works on her website—but be prepared to get addicted to her blog like I did! Buy her books here, and say a temporary goodbye to your families, as you’ll be devouring them in cafés, on the train, and at the beach. Her books, that is. Not your families.

A huge thank you to Catherine for this interview!

Written by SCWC

Posted on August 16, 2018