Former cruise ship worker Cathryn Chapman, 40, has written a saucy fiction novel loosely based on her seven-year adventures living on the high seas. Sex, Lies & Cruising, a self-published work by the Brisbane author, is the first in a trilogy and follows the international exploits of main character Ellie Green. Cathryn’s second book, Love, Drugs & New York, is due to be released in October 2015.
Here, SHE SAID talks to the author about her amazing journey from travelling the world – working on cruise ships and living in London, New York, Paris and South America – through to settling down in Brisbane with a husband and baby boy and staying in one place long enough to finally write her first novel.
Sex, Lies & Cruising is for sale as an eBook and paperback at Amazon.com, Apple iBook Store, Barnes & Noble, Nook, Kobo, Book Depository, Booktopia, and most other online retail channels. Local bookstores will also be able to place paperback orders for customers through international supplier Ingram.
Why and when did you come to work on cruise ships? What attracted you to it?
I took a photography subject when I was studying a Bachelor of Business at university. My lecturer told me one of his ex-students was working as a photographer on a cruise ship and was having a fabulous time. A couple of years later when I was living in London, I bought the photography magazine he said she’d found the advertisement in and applied. I wanted to do something different and was always attracted to travel so I gave it a go!
What jobs did you perform aboard the ships?
On my first stint on ships in my 20s, I worked in the photo team both working in the photo shop and taking photos. Ten years later I went back to a different cruise line to work as a member of the cruise staff, on the cruise director’s team.
What did you love and hate most about ship life?
I loved meeting people from around the world and seeing the ports for the first time. I enjoy learning about different cultures and discovering new places.
I hated the way many people behaved on the ship. There was a lot of lying, cheating, backstabbing and ugly competitiveness. Friendships could be very shallow – mostly because people knew they were unlikely to ever see each other again once their contracts were up. Finding someone you could trust was rare. Of course, there are lots of lovely people just there to do a job and save money. Some of those people are still my friends today.
What is the most shocking and/or scandalous thing you saw or experienced on the high seas?
The cheating and lying I saw every day never failed to be shocking. I wasn’t an angel, but I draw the line at cheating on your partner at home and stealing your friend’s girlfriend/boyfriend. I saw that all too often.
How did cruise-ship life impact your romantic relationships?
I was probably too trusting and ended up getting my heart broken. There’s a saying that cruise ship life goes at four times the speed of real life, so everything is fast-paced and people dive head-first into the lifestyle. Partying, romance, fun – it’s all happening at a rapid speed! Although I do know a number of happy couples who met on ships, it’s not the first place I’d go to look for real love!
You’ve been on 100 dates: what love/life advice would you give to young women?
Firstly, to clarify what I mean in terms of dates: we’re talking going out to a place, not sleeping with people. I went through a phase of regular online dating – including Brisbane, London, NYC and Paris – so I met all kinds of people! I did want to meet someone special, but I also wanted to get out of the house. In Brisbane, I had a crazy flatmate and in NYC I was bored at home alone.
These dates mostly involved just a coffee or a wine, occasionally dinner. I used to plan the shortest date I could in case there was no chemistry. If there wasn’t anything, I would leave after one drink, politely saying: “Thanks for coming to meet me. I really appreciate it. I just don’t feel the chemistry I would need to pursue a relationship, so I’m off. Bye!” That’s my first bit of advice to young women: plan a brief date in mutual territory. Don’t let the guy know where you live until you’ve gone out with him at least five or six times. Don’t be alone with him until the tenth date. Putting a number on it helps keep it simple and above board. I won’t say I followed this rule 100 per cent of the time, but it was certainly my goal.
My biggest life lesson in all my dating experience has been about trusting your gut instinct. On more than one occasion over the years, I was in a situation where I felt like the guy wasn’t being honest with me – and that ranged from guys I had just met for coffee, or guys I had been out with a few times, or even had a relationship with. Read up on the term ‘gaslighting’ – it’s a really fascinating concept and makes you realise how often men take advantage of your trusting nature!
I met a really handsome man in London who asked me out on the tube. I went out to lunch with him a few days later and a week after that he met me during my dinner break in my evening job. He told me all these stories about being an ex-professional basketball player and now an actor. If I asked him any questions about whom his agent was or who did his headshots (because at that time, I was pursuing a theatre career too), he would get all weird and defensive. He tried to make out like I was being intrusive, but I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t even the basketball/acting thing – something just felt off but I tell you, he was really sexy. Think Henry Simmons meets Taye Diggs. Not the type of guy you want to disregard too easily!
I told him I didn’t want to see him again; that I knew he was lying to me. He questioned me about what he had said or done that made me suspicious and probably for the first time in my life, I said, “I don’t even know but it doesn’t matter. I feel it in my heart and I’m going to trust myself.” I did have to end up changing my number, but that’s another story. The moral of the story is to trust your gut!
Would you recommend a life on the high seas?
It depends what you’re looking for. It’s great for saving money if you’re strict with yourself, which is very hard! You get bored so it’s easy just to go to the crew bar every night – especially when everyone else is going too. Depending what ship you’re on, you can see a lot of great places.
I would recommend it to a single person who is looking for something different and fun to do or trying to save money. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone in a relationship – whether your partner is at home, or with you on the ship. It’s just not an environment which is conducive to thriving relationships.
What made you leave the cruise ship industry?
I was sick of the environment. I had worked on ships for less than a year in total. I did two contracts a decade apart – and both times I resigned before my contract was up because the environment wasn’t for me. The final straw was when I got my heart broken. The guy I was seeing was really deceptive and I had continually given him the benefit of the doubt. In the end, a close male friend of mine came to me and said he had just found my boyfriend in bed with another woman, whose fiancé was on vacation. I was tempted to go down and catch them, but I knew I couldn’t face it. I resigned the next morning and booked a flight to Paris instead.
What did you do next?
I moved to Paris for a while to pursue a singing career, until I realised it was a very small industry. Still, at least I got to live in Paris, which had long been a dream. I studied French and ate way too many tarte au citron!
I was still itching to try and further my singing career so I moved to London again and got an evening job in a merchant bank so I could study performance or attend auditions during the day. I studied singing, dancing, acting and accents. I also spent a semester in NYC studying dance full-time, as I felt my dancing was letting me down in auditions.
When I got back to London, I was offered a singing job in Cornwall, on the south coast of England. I worked as a resident entertainer in a holiday park. It was my Dirty Dancing experience!
What gave you the idea to write a book?
I’ve always enjoyed writing (and reading) and I suppose I always found it came naturally. When I was 12 years old my English teacher and I had a false start when she didn’t believe I’d written the sensual poem I showed her (I literally had no experience with boys). Two years later, she declared I was the most talented writer she’d ever taught and encouraged me to become an author. “You could write for Mills & Boon right now,” she said.
I pushed that idea to the side and spent the next 20 or so years doing a variety of other things. I left my ‘sensible’ career in marketing/PR a number of times, each time declaring, “I’ll never work in an office again!”, then travelling the world and doing all the things I mentioned above. I even started my own spray-tan business, but always ended up working back in an office.
I always had a creative fire which needed to be fuelled and it took until I fell pregnant a few years ago for me to finally say to my husband, “I’m ready to write a book now.” People had often suggested I write a book about my life, but a memoir hadn’t felt right, I knew I was a fiction author. I have more novels planned for the future – about a wide range of women’s fiction topics. I’m in it for the long haul.
What was the book writing process like?
I enlisted a mentor who worked with me to set up my story structure, decide on my characters and plan the outline. I started out with another story idea, but soon changed my mind and decided I was going to write a romantic comedy inspired by the time I’d spent on cruise ships.
When my son went down to sleep at 6-6.30pm, I would start writing. Even if I was tired, I would sit down for that period of time and just write something. Some days that turned into three hours and 3000 words. I chipped away at the book a bit each day and completed the last 13 chapters in about three months. By New Year’s Eve, I had finished! The editing process took roughly a year on and off as well.
I tried to find an agent, but at the same time the idea of self-publishing really appealed to me. Every day when I woke up, a voice would yell in my ear, “You need to self-publish!” so in the end I listened, and here I am.
Do you expect the book to do well?
I really hope it does well. That is the dream and why I’ve pushed so hard for over three years now to get it out into the world. I took out a loan to promote the book because I felt that if I wanted people to believe in me, then I had to ‘back’ myself. I edited it about 10 times and worked with professional editors and a cover designer, because you can only have one debut. I didn’t want to spend 10 years writing many novels before I finally made a living. I realise that 99% of authors live that way and I totally respect it but I wanted to see what I could achieve now, rather than waiting to finish the trilogy.
I set myself a goal to sell one million copies by Christmas. We’ll see what happens! I’m a long way from being a full-time author. I still have a job four days a week but I work with great people so I’m happy to be there and make a difference where I can.
How did you meet your husband?
We met in the aformentioned holiday park in the UK. I was the resident entertainer and he was a bartender/maintenance man/cleaner, although he was actually a trained chef and had gone there on a professional English program where he thought he’d be cooking. We had both worked there for weeks and never spoken. The owners of the holiday park were a bit strange and told me I wasn’t supposed to socialise with the others, as they were basically ‘beneath’ me. They told the other guys the same thing – not to ‘bother’ the entertainer.
One day I asked a couple of them if they wanted to have the chicken curry I was making. That’s when I learned Andres was a chef. We talked while I cooked, then while we ate, and four hours later I was terribly disappointed to have to start work for the evening. I felt like in those four hours we had talked about everything that is important in this world – love, family, children, religion, politics and world peace. He was everything I wanted in a man. Six weeks later, we were engaged. We’ve been together more than six years now and are happily married with a son turning four later this year. It’s been a great journey.
What’s next for you?
Apart from spending lots of time promoting Sex, Lies & Cruising, I’ve started working on the sequel, Love, Drugs & New York. It follows Ellie on the next leg of her journey. I’m also working on selling Sex, Lies & Cruising as a TV series. My publicist in LA has a contact in a major studio who is very excited about the prospect. She feels it’s something that would work well in the industry right now and would be good as a half hour comedy format (think Sex and the City at sea). Finally, I’ve just started a course about becoming a professional screenwriter in Hollywood. I am exploring my options of pursuing a career as a feature film writer, which I’d like to balance with writing more books. I’ll keep you posted how that goes!