Their Library: The Anchoress

Literary influences explored...

Catherine Anne Davies likes to keep herself occupied.

A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, PhD graduate and producer, she's been lucky enough to travel the world with her music.

Through her ongoing The Anchoress project, the Welsh artist is able to channel these experiences – and more – into something quite uniquely creative.

Languid pop music with an artful gaze, the singer will release new album 'Confessions of A Romance Novelist' on January 8th.

It's an intriguing offering, constructed over a lengthy and intense series of recording sessions with Mansun's Paul Draper.

Catherine explains: "This has been made on a wing and a prayer, lots of favours, one car crash, one death, one broken hand, and a lot of patience on so many parts. Stir in three jobs, four studios, two arrests, three pianos, forty songs and one very patient engineer… and you get some way to understanding what a long road it has been."

Ahead of the album's release Clash decided to catch up with The Anchoress in order to dissect her literary tastes and influences.

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What is your favourite book and why?
That's an almost impossible question for me to answer. I think it was John Peel that always used to say that his favourite record was the last record he loved and I’d say that it's the same for me and books. They're such an important part of my life and, like music, form the backdrop of any given day, journey, or period in my life. At the moment I’m reading several different things – Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking and Martin Amis’ London Fields.

If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to take just a few books to a desert island it would be Perfume by Patrick Suskind, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and Satyricon USA by Eurydice. And…. Jeez, can I just take the British Library with me please? 

What other authors do you like?
My go-to writers are mostly poets because I spent 3 years studying them for my PhD in American poetics. The main players are Elizabeth Bishop, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara, ee cummings, Ginsberg and when I’m feeling prose-ish I’ll go to Carson McCullers, James Joyce, or Jack London.

What draws you to certain books?
For me books are an immersive and escapist experience. They were certainly my refuge as a young child who didn't fit in with other kids and preferred to sit alone and read. So I'm drawn to those books that create a vivid and complete universe you can dive into and lose yourself in for a week or so – House of Leaves by Danielevski, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, A la recherché… by Proust (ok, maybe that one’s is a few months of your time…). I guess we are all narcissists in some respect in that we are drawn to literature that reflects our experiences of the world – so of course I love the outsiders… Berryman, Georges Perec.

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?
It’s not really “lost” anymore as it was published posthumously (11 years after he killed himself, thinking he was a failure) but A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is one of those books where you have to wonder what the publishers were thinking when they rejected it. It’s just the most exquisitely styled prose and endlessly funny, brilliant, and immediately its own unique world. 

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
Well, the album does come with its own reading list… hah. 
The craftsmanship that it takes to be a great poet is not dissimilar to the skills I think you need to be a great songwriter. Having studied poetics for so long I'd hope that some of that feel for metre and line has seeped into the way I write. I'm certainly a stickler for the precision and importance of lyrics in a way that I've found other songwriters I know find too obsessive.

I guess the biggest way in which literature influences me is in terms of methodology – I believe in the work and craft of refining something over time to get at the best possible form, imposing restrictions on yourself that open up creativity, and I’m a big fan of intertextuality, otherwise known as the intellectual’s guide to plagiarism…

What are you reading at the moment?
The Story of O by Pauline Reage. For the fucking.

What is the first book you remember reading as a child?
I was quite an early reader and I have a really vivid memory of clinging on to my Miss Tiggywinkle book at my Christening when I was 3. I used to stab each page with a pencil repeatedly so I guess you could say that was the first book I stabbed, rather than read.

Did you make good use of your library card as a child / teenager?
The library changed my life! I ended up being the first in my family to go to university after someone introduced me to the Manic Street Preachers and I subsequently went on a five year book-binge at the local library. I'd get copies of all their old interview and make list of every author or book, play or poem that they referenced and make a huge long list which I'd then take in and order from the librarian. My mother leafing through a copy of Andrea Dworkin's Mercy on my 12 year old bedside table is a memory that will stay with me forever…

Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn’t finish?
Moby Dick. I've tried. Twice.

Do you read book reviews?
I've subscribed to the London Review of Books since I was at university – it's a bad habit I just can't seem to kick. Their long form reviews are incredible pieces of writing.
 I feel like I’ll never read an issue and not have to look up at least two words in the dictionary.

Would you ever re-read the same book?
Frequently! I must have read The Bell Jar about eight times. Proust twice. 
Infinite Jest three times. Berryman’s Dream Songs on repeat.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book? Which one and why?

 I think Anais Nin’s diaries were a bit of a watershed moment for me in terms of speaking about a different way of living to the environment I grew up in. Although not strictly speaking a character in a book but I do think that she creates a literary persona across the diaries that you can identify with if you’re a women who doesn’t necessarily subscribe to social norms. And we’d all quite like to have banged Henry Miller… and his wife.

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?

 When I was studying I’d have about five or six on the go at the same time but now I have a rule of a maximum of two at any given time. I’m constantly breaking this rule.

Is there an author / poet you would like to collaborate with?

If you can organise a seance I’ll do it with Ginsberg.

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'Confessions of A Romance Novelist' will be released on January 8th.

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