Somewhere along the way to becoming one of those names that reoccurs on the NY Times best seller list, Cathy FitzGerald put down her pen and picked up a microphone. The literary world's loss is radio's gain.
Cathy brings a quiet elegance to her work. Short on sound design, long on imagination. Like a good author, she develops characters and tells compelling stories with layers of nuance. Much like eloquent words on a page, those stories resonate and stay with you. Her nearly-whispered narration drawing you in. Her lucid writing carrying you along.
In radio years Cathy is a relative newcomer. In reality, her growing collection is impressive in quality and quantity. Notable is how she explores ideas outside the mainstream— and often out of left field. Here's a short list of our FitzGerald favorites, including her latest.
Feeling the pain in a museum dedicated to broken hearts.
Going six feet under with gravediggers who still dig by hand.
A high-flying paraglider juxtaposed with a man behind bars who can only dream of soaring above it all.
Finding out what drives New York cabbies to get behind the wheel.
If you know much about FitzGerald, you're aware she collaborates with Matt Thompson on many of her pieces. You can read about that here on the Third Coast site (click on the Extras tab). But to keep it simple, our focus was 100% on Cathy and her work. Happily, she was nice enough to answer all of our nosy questions.
You studied for a Ph.D. in literature (Dickens). What was your ultimate goal (we're guessing it wasn't radio)?
FitzGerald: I don’t like ultimate goals much. I used to think I had to have one, but then around the end of my twenties I realised I wanted to have a life, not a career. Lives are much messier and (like most messy things) are much more fun. So I didn’t have a plan beyond the fact that few things made me happier at that time then spending a rainy Sunday with a pot of tea, a packet of ginger nuts and a very sharp pencil, scribbling on a Victorian novel.
How did you settle on radio as a form of expression?
CF: I gave up trying to be a writer. And then it turned out radio was already in my head, waiting for me.
Where did you learn and polish your craft?
CF: Well, it might sound daft, but Dickens taught me a lot about radio. I love how his writing is a mix of hyper-realism and surrealism; the practical and the poetic. And then Matt Thompson – who makes radio in an old rockethouse on the Scottish coast – taught me the nuts and bolts of documentary-making, plus the most important thing of the lot: confidence in my own voice. That’s a lifetime’s debt.
You use music very sparingly, which helps give your work a simple, calm elegance. How would you describe your style?