In conversation with

Cat Sarsfield

Community Manager at Sonder & Tell

cat sarsfield sonder and tell

Introduction

Introduction

It’s been a couple of years since we launched Sonder & Tell and began sharing stories from our favourite writers, editors, journalists and  brand directors. Ahead of our two-year anniversary we made a few changes – like getting an office with plants and a bookcase and cards you have to swipe for entry. We also decided it was time to grow our team, to find someone to look after the community of readers and writers we’re building out in the world.

Welcome Cat Sarsfield, a writer whose love of stories was born with Angus, Thongs & Full-frontal Snogging and grew to a playwriting course, a stint in music journalism and two years working on words for the Cornish surf brand, Finisterre.  With us she’ll be managing our community – creating articles like this one, launching a newsletter (sign up pls) and hosting IRL events. What we love about Cat is that she can flit between unpacking the Old Vic’s winter theatre programme and the latest Netflix binge. Three more things you should know? She loves cold water, is obsessed with food and journals every single day (which is precisely three more times than the rest of us).

 

Question and Answer

What did you grow up reading?

I think like most kids growing up in the 90s and early 00s, I was hooked on Harry Potter (as in I was the nerd who made my mum take me to Tesco at midnight to get the new book then I’d binge-read 800 pages in a day). I loved teen romance novels and YA fiction (Angus Thongs And Full Frontal Snogging, anyone?), perhaps because I love anything I can resonate with on a personal level (not that there was much snogging going on at 14, to be honest!). There was a time where I went through a Jilly Cooper phase in my mid-teens, and I (not ashamedly) owned every single book in the Princess Diaries series. For me, reading was about the balance between resonating with characters and also reaching beyond to escape my half-country-half-suburban-all-girls-school life so I could enter a world that wasn’t necessarily available to me (aka boys and horses and being a princess).

How have stories shaped your career so far?

I have always been a dreamer, and so I have always been a storyteller. When I graduated, I was accepted onto a playwriting course at the Royal Court Theatre, and my love of dialogue – its potency in real time, its fantastical quality – that drove me to write. I worked for Harper’s Bazaar, and it was there where I cut my teeth learning how to craft stories from pieces of fashion, art and design. I hear stories when I listen to music, so I became a music journalist. I was so enamoured by the deep intensity of cold water surfing that I worked for a surf brand in-store, telling their story to customers with total joy, until I was invited to be their content writer for two sweet years. Since then I have moved through life creating small narrative shifts, telling stories in hopes of leaving a legacy. All of those dreams I had led me to far-flung paradises and countless friends, which shaped the stories I have told and lived. All this led me here, to Sonder & Tell!

“When I was growing up, we were told not to watch too much tv because it wasn’t educational. But now, television and film are these hugely accessible portals into storytelling, especially for those who don’t or didn’t have access to books in the same way as others.”

What’s your favourite form of storytelling?

Honestly, as much as I love books and the written word, I probably favour cinematic storytelling whether that’s through film or television. I think the way we consume stories has rapidly changed, and we’ve adapted to fit that. When I was growing up, we were told not to watch too much tv because it wasn’t educational. But now, television and film are these hugely accessible portals into storytelling, especially for those who don’t or didn’t have access to books in the same way as others growing up. I think Netflix is an incredible platform which has amplified the writing and stories of many who might have gone unnoticed – a series like The OA is a great example of that.

What ideas do you have for the Sonder & Tell community (no pressure!)?

I would love to be able to gather the S+T community on a regular basis and invite inspirational storytellers to share with us – watch this space!

Cat Sarsfield joins sonder and tell
cat sarsfield copywriter

What brands do you love for the content they share with the world?

I am possibly the world’s biggest fangirl of Bon Appetit – as a brand I think they have nailed how they speak to their community and the content they produce on all of their platforms is always so wonderful. I love how they make food and wine feel like this really accessible, real world that all people can get into – they’ve totally shifted the narrative of unreachable Michelin restaurants, and make food and the art of making a meal seem like a total joy.

My amazing friends Becky and Huw (who I met through The Do Lectures) have launched a brand called Paynter Jacket Co – they make limited edition batches of 300 jackets, three times a year, are dedicated to sustainable sourcing and hard-wearing fabrics. The best part of their brand is how they tell their story: it’s so honest and authentic, and the aesthetic is inspiring yet relatable. They just make you feel like you’re already part of their gang. Their newsletter is one of my top reads.

Bon Appetit Magazine
paynter jacket co

Any writers you follow religiously?

I love seeing anything that Simon Stephens (British playwright) is doing, and I listen to his Playwright’s Podcast for the Royal Court every morning when I’m making breakfast, just to hear about how other playwrights create their work. Rupi Kaur is someone I love and respect enormously for bringing poetry into the mainstream arena, especially as a woman of colour who writes about sex, abuse, relationships and love. I’ve also recently just got into reading a lot of Anthony Bourdain (RIP) – it’s heartbreaking and incredible to go back and see the life and death of someone like that through his own words.

Any books you always come back to?

I’ve read Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler over seven times; whenever I finish it, I just go straight back to the beginning. It’s set in the restaurant industry in New York, and Danler is wonderfully evocative in how she writes about food, taste, lust, appetite and belonging. The language is incredibly sensory and is made even more intriguing as told through the lens of protagonist Tess, filtered through all of her naivety and flaws. I see a lot of myself in my early twenties in that character; the relationship she has with herself and other key figures in her life really resonate with me.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara is another one I go back to; it’s a heavy and difficult read in many ways, dealing with themes of sexual abuse, violence, abandonment, yet ultimately it’s a novel about hope, acceptance and growth. It’s so compelling to see a narrative so intricately woven around male friendship. I feel like we are fed stories on the strong bonds that female friendship and sisterhood facilitate, but often leave out the nuances of how male friendships develop emotionally and physically across a lifetime.

a little life hanya yanagihara
"I’ve read Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler over seven times"

What are any career books you’d pass on?

Anything in the Do Books series – Do Purpose by David Hieatt is pretty essential when it comes to setting intentions on how you want to create real, authentic purpose with your career. It’s yet to be published, but my friend and mentor Alex Mazerolle is currently writing a book on launching Girlvana, a platform empowering teenage girls through yoga, meditation and raw conversation. Everything I have learnt from her has impacted my confidence, purpose and career in a big way. Watch out for it in 2020!

Three things Sonder & Tell’s community should know about you?

  1. I love jumping into cold water at all times of the year (a hangover from living in a shed on the south coast of Cornwall for 3 years).
  2. I’m obsessed with food – cooking, eating, restaurants, writing about it and reading it (hence my weird fangirl status for Bon Appetit).
  3. I journal every single day (sometimes twice a day) in the hopes that one day I will suddenly get a surge of inspiration and write my Man Booker Prize-winning novel (fingers crossed, you heard it here first).

 

The Storylist

Cat's Storylist

Books

  1. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
  2. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
  3. Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
  4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara

Magazines

  1. Bon Appetit
  2. Vanity Fair
  3. The New Yorker

Podcasts

  1. Modern Love by The New York Times
  2. Table Manners by Jessie Ware
  3. The Playwright's Podcast by Royal Court Theatre
  4. Slow Burn by Slate

Newsletters

  1. Healthyish
  2. The Hive
  3. Paynter Jacket Co.
  4. The Chicken Shed Chronicles
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