‘The entire novel is so close to my heart … I almost couldn’t write it’ – Catherine Newman chats about her debut We All Want Impossible Things
More about the book!
Author Catherine Newman chats about writing fiction versus writing memoirs, taking inspiration from real life, and her favourite scene from her first novel for adults, We All Want Impossible Things.
‘We All Want Impossible Things is similar to a Memoir, in that it’s inspired by my own experience of losing my best friend.’
We All Want Impossible Things is my first novel for adults. I write a lifestyle column, and have penned books on my parenting experience and books for kids on important skills to learn, so this is really my first real endeavour into fiction. While I was writing the novel, I had to keep reminding myself that I could fictionalise stuff! It gave me a kind of vertigo, the bottomless possibilities afforded by fiction. With a memoir, you’re bound by the truth, but writing the novel, I was suddenly, like, ‘Oh, wait, what if she doesn’t die?’
But We All Want Impossible Things is similar to a memoir, in that it’s inspired by my own experience of losing my best friend. She passed away in hospice some years ago and I think that for me, and perhaps writers in general, the idea that – in the middle of something hard – I have the ability to create a narrative around the experience is reassuring. Weirdly, or perhaps paradoxically, it also helps me be very present in the moment, imagining that I will be writing something about it. I feel very aware of everything that’s happening, and that was a real gift when my friend was dying.
Of course, Edi and Ash are based on my friend and I, as are most of the scenes in the book. The entire novel is so close to my heart, but the scene where Ash is trying to reassure Edi that her son is essentially entirely made out of her love nearly broke me. I almost couldn’t write it. But there are also light moments in the books, such as all the comedic scenes with the daughter Belle, who is a lot like someone I know.
I spent years (decades) doing the ‘wool gathering’ for this novel, but the actual writing I did very quickly. In a matter of months. I lived and breathed this novel over the course of a single winter, and wrote obsessively every day until it was done.
In between my many other writing deadlines, it helped to prioritise this novel, or I knew I’d never get to it. Of course, there was no way I could miss my professional deadlines, so having that pressure on me kept me on my toes. It was also great writing practice for me, having so many deadlines, even though they get in the way. It kept me writing all the time.
What also really helped me (besides having my cats around and loads of coffee) was having a writing calendar. Every month, I sketch out a calendar, and reward myself with a sticker for every 500 words I write on any given day. Because I am two years old and learning how to use the potty, apparently. But it works!
This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa.
We All Want Impossible Things is out now.
About the book
Edi and Ash have been best friends for over forty years. So, when Edi is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ash’s world reshapes around the rhythms of Edi’s care, from chipped ice and watermelon cubes to music therapy; from snack smuggling to impromptu excursions into the frozen winter night. Because life is about squeezing the joy out of every moment, about building a powerhouse of memories, about learning when to hold on, and when to let go. A deeply moving celebration of life and friendship at its imperfect, radiant, and irreverent best.
‘Nora-Ephron-style wit … comforting, so funny, moving … one of my favourite books ever’ – Marian Keyes