Busking to Norway to see the midnight sun wasn’t Catrina Davies’s idea; it was her friend Andrew’s. It became a fantastical adventure that he talked about with longing as a must-do before he died. After Andrew did die suddenly, though, Catrina—who was already recovering from one kind of heartbreak—decided to honor her friend by completing the task herself.
Her gorgeous new memoir, The Ribbons are for Fearlessness, details that journey. It has all the elements of irresistible travel writing: unexpected encounters in foreign places; the uncertain reliance of a travel method—in this case, a creaky van emitting death keens; and personal discovery and recovery. Best of all, Catrina has released an EP with music derived from her journeying, making Ribbons the perfect multimedia exploration of the wild unknown.
Tell us about The Ribbons EP, and how it serves as an accompaniment to your memoir.
While I was journeying in my van I wrote songs to help me relax after a long day of busking or driving. By the end of the trip all these songs added up to a kind of diary, or a blueprint for the story.
Some of the songs were directly inspired by the music I was playing on the street on my cello, so singing them once I was back home helped me access the feelings and smells and sights and memories of the people I encountered.
When the book came to be published I realized that the story wouldn’t be complete without the songs, so I set about recording them—on a shoestring, in a granite pigshed. I loved the idea of people reading the book and then listening to the songs that helped to make it.
I think of the Ribbons EP as a set of illustrations to accompany the book, and equally I think of the book as a kind of extended set of sleeve notes to accompany the EP. It’s like looking at a subject from two different angles—head and heart maybe—and then reading between the lines.
Plus, this is a book about how music literally got me through a very tough time, so it seemed appropriate to give it a soundtrack.
What traveling error are you most glad you made? Any missed opportunities that you regret?
I am glad I broke my arm, because of all the things that led on from that seeming disaster. I wish I had stayed in touch with the doctor called Pierre.
What, if anything, do writing a memoir and composing music have in common?
I think they have a lot in common. For me, writing songs has long been my way of processing emotions and getting a handle on things that I can’t get my rational head around. Writing a memoir is another way of making sense of things and finding patterns in the chaos of existence. I am a control freak, so I love turning the chaos of existence into a story, with a beginning and a middle and an end, or into a song, with three verses and a chorus. It’s a comforting illusion.
Tell us about the experience of working with Skyhorse Publishing.
I am really happy to have found a home with Skyhorse Publishing. They’ve been super positive and found some really nice little opportunities for the book. I think small independent publishers are great to work with because of their enthusiasm and willingness to take risks and be open-minded.
Your journey began as an active elegy for Andrew—a form of mourning by doing something drastic. How might the same trip take shape differently today?
I love the phrase “active elegy.” That’s exactly what it was. I don’t think that trip could ever be replicated, not least because ferries don’t run from the UK to Norway anymore, so I’d have to drive all the way north from Germany. Also, my emotional landscape has shifted since then. These days I am more preoccupied with mourning the state of the planet and trying to find ways of telling stories and writing songs that inspire us to feel more connected with the Earth. I think if I was to do the same trip now I would have to walk, or cycle—with my surfboard and cello and guitar in a trailer!
Plot your ideal next adventure, in brief.
I’d love to walk from one side of the US to the other, with a guitar on my back, then head down the coast from California to Patagonia and then sail to New Zealand. Watch this space.
Michelle Anne Schingler