Q&A WITH CATHY ACE – BOOKS AND WRITING PROCESS

Cathy Ace

To wish you all a very happy 2020, we’re starting a new Q&A feature, where Crime Cymru authors will be answering our questions to tell us a little bit about themselves. This week, Cathy Ace talks about her books and her writing process.

Cathy Ace here. I write several different types of books: The WISE Enquires Agency Mysteries feature four soft-boiled female PIs who run their business out of a converted barn on the estate of a Welsh stately home in the Wye Valley; the DI Evan Glover book THE WRONG BOY came out in January 2019, and is a tale of psychological suspense set on the south Wales coast; the Cait Morgan Mysteries feature a Welsh Canadian professor of criminal psychology, Cait Morgan, who encounters puzzling murders wherever she goes. I have decided to focus my replies to questions on these books, as my work in progress is a new Cait Morgan Mystery, to be published in 2020.

Can you tell us about your work in progress?

I am currently writing THE CORPSE WITH THE CRYSTAL SKULL, which will be the ninth in the Cait Morgan Mysteries series.

I’m a detailed outliner, which means that when I finally sit down to type the first draft of a book I have already written thorough character backgrounds, a complete outline for the book from start to finish and chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of who is where, when, doing what, how and why, plus listing how that chapter moves the story forward…and what it reveals to (or hides from) the reader, and characters. I’m about one third of the way into the first draft.

Once I have finished the first draft I will leave the manuscript alone for at least a week, then I’ll go back to it and work through main edits. I’ll follow up with continuing rounds of edits (I mark up a printed version, then input changes on my laptop), before it goes to my editor. Once I get feedback from her, I’ll make any changes upon which we agree, then it will go through another few rounds of editing/polishing by me – all in an attempt to make it the best possible version of the story I want to tell – before it goes for proof corrections.

As you can see, although being one third of the way through the first draft sounds promising, this book is a long way from being ready for anyone to read!

Tell us about your book.

My experience (as both a reader and writer) is that readers want an author to write the same type of book for each novel in a series, but that they also want it to differ from its stablemates in some significant way, so the series doesn’t become formulaic and stale. Thus, whilst this will be a truly traditional (though contemporary) puzzle-plot whodunit, very much in the vein of Agatha Christie, so that it sits well with all the other Cait Morgan Mysteries, it will (like each of them) have a different location, thematic framework, and specific “shape”.

This one is set in Jamaica, which allows me to introduce Jamaican history – especially focussing on the time when the Welsh privateer Henry Morgan was knighted by Charles II then appointed as Lieutenant Governor of the island, and the period in the 1960s and 1970s when it was the playground of people like Ian Fleming, Noel Coward etc. It features a true ‘locked room’ mystery; the titular corpse is discovered in a situation which means it would have been physically impossible for anyone to have entered and/or left the room where it is found, meaning the crime seems impossible. (The Murders in the Rue Morgue by EA Poe, was a locked room mystery.)

Each Cait Morgan Mystery is a ‘closed circle’ mystery – in that only a member of a specific ‘closed circle’ of suspects could have committed the instigating murder of the titular corpse (who is always dead by the end of page two) and most of Dame Agatha’s tales are the same (eg: And Then There Were None). THE CORPSE WITH THE CRYSTAL SKULL combines both a ‘locked room’ and a ‘closed circle’ puzzle.

What prompted your latest novel?

Over the years I have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean, and I find the piratical history of the area fascinating. Henry Morgan was a privateer, rather than a pirate, and his story has mesmerized me since I was a child…a Welshman becoming Lieutenant Governor of a Caribbean island? Fabulous! It’s taken me until now to be able to find a home for him in one of my books, and the chance to mix a dash of Ian Fleming and Bond with a liberal quantity of history and myth about a Welshman who shares a family name with my main character (who is also Welsh, though she’s relocated to Canada) is a bit like having finally come up with the perfect-for-me recipe for a martini…though I prefer to stir slowly, rather than shaking things up.

Do you like to reflect a sense of place in your stories? If so, how/where?

As with each Cait Morgan Mystery this story could only take place in exactly the location where it’s set. In this book the setting is a character. Maybe you’ve read that sentence before – so, what does it mean to me? Well, without the history of the area, without its culture, myths and current situation, the tale I am telling wouldn’t – couldn’t – happen. Each Cait Morgan book relies upon its setting in this way. It’s a device by which I get to share my enthusiasm for local history, culture, art, architecture, mythology, peoples, places, food and drink.

How does the location of the story impact on them?

The specifics of the setting (a luxurious private estate overlooking a picturesque private beach), as well as the more general cultural and historic perspective of the island, are intricately woven through the plot and the entire story. In this instance I have been able to take facts (such as they are known) about Henry Morgan, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward and the other inhabitants – over time – of the properties on the coastline of Jamaica, and blend them with fictional elements of my creation. I’ve also intertwined popular myths and rumours to create a layered setting for a story of jealousy, revenge, greed, and need.

The climate (hot, humid and claustrophobic), the people (those who have more than they know what to do with, and those who have next to nothing…including hope), the local flora and fauna (exotic, lush, dangerous and endangered) and the tensions which can exist in a place where those who live there and those who merely visit rub shoulders (and morals) all combine to ratchet up the suspense and level of threat to my central characters, who are caught up in a complex situation they have to work hard to reveal, then understand.

If you’ve spent time researching for your book, how difficult is it to not overload the reader?

It’s hard to explain the shattering poverty and the fantastic wealth one finds in Jamaica without starting to sound as though you’re making a political speech; writing a classic murder mystery which affords readers an insight into both realities allows me to lift the veil in an intriguing way, without ‘me’ saying anything – my characters can do it for me.

I’ve enjoyed the fabulous beaches and resorts of Jamaica, and have been hosted at humble local homes; I’ve read many histories, biographies and autobiographies of people who’ve lived (and still live) there; I’ve smelled, tasted, touched, eaten and drunk the local delicacies; I’ve poked and pried, have corresponded with, and taken advice from, those who know how it used to be, and how it is. But, and it’s a big BUT, most of what I’ve learned won’t end up on the pages of the final book – though it will have informed my characters’ experiences in the story I tell through them.

Who are your main characters in your book: can you tell us something about them?

Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson appear in each Cait Morgan Mystery. Cait is from Swansea, Wales (like me), took a first degree in psychology at University College Cardiff (like me), worked in PR and advertising in London (like me), then (unlike me) she left PR to take her Masters degree in criminal psychology in Cambridge and finally moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada (back to being like me).

Her move was precipitated by having been arrested on suspicion of murdering her ex-boyfriend (mine wasn’t!). His body was found in her home after a horribly abusive relationship had come to a painful end. Having been hounded by the British tabloids, Cait finds the life of an academic specialising in the psychological profiling of victims of crime a great way to hide comfortably within the walls she’s built around her shattered psyche…until she meets Bud Anderson.

Bud’s the head of Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team when they first meet, and he hires her as a sometimes-consultant to help with cases where a better understanding of the victim is needed to help his team work though a case. I can’t say more than that (spoilers!) but their relationship develops throughout the series.

In each book, a new cast of characters is introduced – because each book takes place in a different country, following Cait’s travels. There are a few recurring characters, however, and this story finds us sharing time with people we have come to know already – to a greater or lesser extent. It’s a chance for Cait to question what she thinks she knows about them, and herself. She already knows that Bud hasn’t been able to tell her everything about his background in a crack team set up to tackle international gang crime, but it’s only in this book that she finally gets to peel back a few more layers of ‘deceit’ to learn more about the man she’s married to, and his prior colleagues.

How important is justice to your character?

Cait has been the victim of injustice, and still feels it keenly. She’s focussed her academic abilities on victims, rather than perpetrators, because she sees crime through the lens of the victim and feels the need to track down those who are guilty for the victim’s sake. She is driven by the need for justice at an almost cellular level – and Bud shares this world view.

Will there be a sequel?

The series will continue. Each book title features something precious, and a body part (eg: THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE, THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB etc.) and many more are lined up. Of course, it’s fun to play around with such titles (eg: THE CORPSE WITH THE TIN EAR etc!) but they can only exist for a reason, when they provide the title for a good, solid story. So I won’t rush ahead…I’ll only move when the story, and a fitting title, are ready.

What’s next?

Once this book is released into the wild (2020) I’ll get on with the next psychological suspense novel where ex-detective inspector Evan Glover (who retired from the West Glamorgan Police Service in THE WRONG BOY) and his psychotherapist wife Betty play a role (for 2021). Then? Possibly the fifth in my WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery series, which features four soft-boiled female private eyes who run their business out of a converted barn on the estate of a Welsh stately home, the seat of the Dukes of Chellingworth in the Wye Valley (for 2021/2022). Or maybe I won’t be able to resist the pull of another Cait Morgan Mystery – I don’t know. At the moment, my main concern is to get Cait out of a bit of a pickle she’s got herself into, involving…no, I can’t say…spoilers!

You can find out more about Cathy on her website

You can stalk her on Facebook or on Twitter: @AceCathy

17th January 2020

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