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Catherine Barter has worked in a library, a bookshop and for an organisation campaigning for the rights of garment workers. After gaining a PhD in American literature, she moved to East London and now co-manages Housmans, a radical independent bookshop in King’s Cross. Troublemakers is her debut novel and was shortlisted for the 2014 Bath Novel Award for unpublished work.
Author photo © Georgie Lord
Rich in historic atmosphere and detail, and smouldering with female desire to be heard in a patriarchal society, Catherine Barter’s We Played with Fire is a hauntingly riveting read. The fact it was inspired by the true story of the Fox Sisters who made a fortune from communicating with spirits in nineteenth-century America makes it all the more gripping, and a fine example of how to transform extraordinary real-life events into enthralling fiction. Back home in Rochester Maggie had enjoyed listening to progressive women she “thought she could learn from” - strong role models who spoke-up at political meetings held in the kitchen. But these fires of inspiration are dampened when Maggie is incriminated in a terrible event that takes place near the schoolhouse she claims is haunted. As a result of the scandal, her family move to remote Hydesville where, feeling fed-up and fuming, Maggie and her younger sister Kate decide to spice things up by playing supernatural tricks on their parents. Matters take a menacing turn when their old farmhouse makes spooky sounds independent of the sisters’ tomfoolery, and they become certain a spirit is communicating with them. When this attracts the attention of their neighbours and a local journalist, Maggie and Kate see the power and potential of spiritualism and set-off on an astonishing life journey that reels with rebellion, show-woman-ship and gothic charisma.
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2018 | In a nutshell: politics and the personal combine in a thoughtful, well-told and moving story Catherine Barter’s excellent novel is primarily the story of a girl’s search to find out more about her mother, but that’s just part of a complex set of themes and plotlines which include terrorism, politics and activism, as well as family relationships. She holds everything together with real skill and in central character Alena has created a completely believable and sympathetic heroine, with a memorable voice. Alena’s mother died when she was a toddler and she’s been brought up by her brother and his boyfriend. Their happy home-life is disrupted when Alena finds photos of her mother at Greenham Common, for some reason this really upsets Danny. Nick is hurt when Danny accepts a job with a politician he regards as dangerous populist; meanwhile, someone is planting bombs in supermarkets. The personal and the political merge making for compelling reading. ~ Andrea Reece A Letter from the Author: Dear reader, For much of the time I was writing Troublemakers, I was working at a radical bookshop, Housmans, in King’s Cross. (I still am.) Housmans is thriving right now. Our shelves are floor-to-ceiling crammed with books celebrating the history of protest and activism, and books that map out alternative futures, offering ideas and strategies for a better, fairer, more peaceful world. In turbulent times like these, maybe it’s not surprising that we’re busier than we’ve ever been. This is a time when we’re perpetually reminded of the threat of terrorism, and our fears are used to justify all kinds of political manoeuvring, from immigration crackdowns to enhanced surveillance powers. Today’s teenagers have grown up in this climate: it’s probably hard to imagine anything else. And there’s a few politicians who are expert at exploiting fear to bolster their own strength. There’s a character a lot like this in Troublemakers. This book was partly inspired by the fearful times we live in. Watching the news can make it can seem like it’s safer to stay at home rather than go out into the world and try to make a change – but still, a lot of people right now are doing exactly that. The main character in Troublemakers, Alena, is coming to realise that her mother was that kind of person: an activist who wasn’t afraid of trouble. The more Alena learns, the more she wonders if she might be that kind of person, too. But her older brother, her guardian, is more concerned with keeping her safe even when that means telling lies. Troublemakers is about families, loss, and dealing with the things we can’t change. But it’s also about the things we can change, and sometimes the necessity of trying, regardless. While I was writing it, I thought a lot about some of the big anti-war protests that took place while I was growing up. Terrible things were unfolding in the world, but it was inspiring to see thousands of people collectively standing up to power. Following a certain U.S. election, we’ve just witnessed another huge, international mass protest. Hopefully it’s given some inspiration to today’s teenagers, the next generation of activists. I’m sure I’m not the only bookseller to dream about seeing their own book on the shelves, and after a long of time of writing away at evenings and weekends, I’m so excited that Troublemakers is soon to be published. If you read it, I really hope you enjoy it. With best wishes, Catherine Barter