By Natasha Carthew
Natasha Carthew is a working-class country writer from Cornwall, UK, where she lives with her girlfriend. She has written two books of poetry, as well as three novels for young adults, Winter Damage, The Light That Gets Lost and Only the Ocean, all for Bloomsbury. Her first novel for adults, All Rivers Run Free, is published by Riverrun/ Quercus. Natasha has written for many publications, including the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, Eco-fiction, TripFiction, the Guardian, the Big Issue and the Dark Mountain Project. Shes currently writing her second literary novel for adults and a new collection of rural poetry.
She is also the organiser and Artistic Director for The Working Class Writers Festival which will tour the UK in 2020.
Natasha Carthew answers questions for Project Twist-It
Tell us a bit about your work and writing. How would you summarise it?
I consider myself a Country Writer. In my work I’m interested in rural issues, from poverty to social isolation, especially in Cornwall which shamelessly, is the second-poorest region in northern Europe and where a quarter of people live in poverty. It is these people’s stories that I am compelled to tell, the stories that may at first seem bleak, but are ultimately uplifting as the characters push for better.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently writing my second literary novel for adults and a new collection of rural poetry. I’m also touring the UK with my new Adult book ALL RIVERS RUN FREE (published by Riverrun/Quercus). My new work of fiction for Young Adults ONLY THE OCEAN is due for publication November 2018. Both books explore poverty and disadvantage.
Which themes appear most often in your work and why?
Rural isolation, poverty, low wages, abuse, disadvantage and poverty. But mostly hope!
I think it’s really important to discuss working class themes in fiction – both positive and negative. Without erasing the struggles of economic hardship or limited options, working-class literature should remind us of the strengths of the working-class culture; humour, integrity, hard work and loyalty among other things.
What inspires you most?
Social justice. The simple fact that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.
Why does telling stories about lived experience of issues like poverty – whatever the medium – matter?
Literature should challenge the under-representation, negative stereotyping and discrimination in society. We can trigger a different way of thinking about poverty and increase support for better policies by talking about the issues and telling our own stories. I like to talk about my own background; raised by a single parent in a council house, no money, no transport, no visible prospects in order to inspire others to believe we can change our own narrative. It’s important to tap into the positives in our lives no matter how small to make a difference to the way we perceive ourselves. If it wasn’t for my working class background and dogged tenacity I definitely wouldn’t have become such a successful writer.
We as writers and creators need to work together to change the story people hear, so they can think in a new way about poverty.
Describe your ambitions for your work going forward.
I didn't see working class identity in books when I was growing up and I still find it hard to find many working class writers that are published in the UK and I want to change that. I want to give readers a sense of belonging, so it’s always been my ambition to write stories that empower instead of isolate and this I will continue with my work.
Why are writers central to aiding our understanding of poverty and hardship?
We tell the truth. Source material isn’t beyond reach; it’s within every working class writer.
Why is it important to write about poverty and to tell stories that relate to it?
Literature that addresses poverty fosters both knowledge and understanding of others outside our own sphere of experience. It is only through knowledge and empathy of how others live that we can attempt to communicate and connect with each other. It is important on a personal and political level. People feel respected and validated and their self-esteem is enhanced when they see themselves and their wider communities and hear their dialect reflected in books.
How can stories in fiction and non-fiction inform our understanding of poverty and the people who experience it?
Literature illuminates the complexity and human dimensions of poverty, it’s important because it’s often concerned with the basic subject matter of development. Storytelling is one of humanity’s oldest methods of possessing information and representing reality and is incredibly important in telling stories of poverty, especially from a working class perspective in order to reflect and celebrate this forgotten corner of diversity.
In ALL RIVERS RUN FREE for example, Ia Pendilly is a voice that comes from the margins of society, socially isolated and literally through her rural location – she is uneducated, is in an abusive relationship and survives hand to mouth, nobody cares about her or offers her help and she has learnt not to ask for it. But she’s a fighter and she’s tenacious, that determination is what motivates her and drives her forward. These kinds of voices are rarely heard, and when they are, we hear them written by people who might not have experienced any kind of marginalisation themselves.
Without authenticity, readers are not getting a true account of what it’s like to be poor or socially isolated, especially from a rural perspective.
What do you think are the biggest myths in our culture surrounding poverty?
The biggest myth is that people are lazy and don’t want to work when in reality people who experience poverty can be the hardest working people. It can literally be a matter of life and death. Growing up, if my mother didn’t juggle several different cleaning jobs for minimum wage, we would have starved, simple as that.
Which issues are most overlooked in discussion about poverty?
Transport! As a writer I talk about this a lot, the expectation to travel for meetings, appearances or whatever for free and also from a rural perspective it comes back to isolation. It can be embarrassing when you have to enquire about travel costs again and again.