In this feature, we ask our Crime Cymru authors to name six things that influenced their life and shaped them as a writer. This week, Cathy Ace talks to us of careful plotting and chance meetings, of sadness and happiness and of Shakespeare and Christie.
Agatha Christie: from an author whose traditional mysteries have been likened to Christie’s in many reviews, this choice is unlikely to come as a surprise. I began reading my mother’s Agatha Christie books when I was about ten years old (having graduated from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys…all of which I gobbled up voraciously at Brynhyfryd Library). Hers were the books I read that allowed me to see and enjoy the shape of the traditional whodunnit mystery in my mind: everyone/no one wanted to do it, or everyone/no one could have done it; the clues vs the red herrings; the cast of characters around our main investigator/s changing with each book, with a few recurring now and again; the final denouement, with ‘justice’ taking many forms. I loved them then, and I have loved them ever since. They have influenced me enormously – and my Cait Morgan Mysteries (whilst they are contemporary) use the same ‘shape’ as Christie’s work, within each book, and across the series.
One piece of music
Trois Gymnopedies by Erik Satie: I honestly have no idea where or when I first heard this music, all I know is that I loved it instantly, and that love has never left me. Need to decompress? I listen to it. Need to revel in a moment? I listen to it. I listened to it when I was zipping around London in my little brown mini. Sitting on my balcony overlooking the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Walking around my acreage in Canada. Anywhere. Everywhere. It’s woven throughout my life. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak about my love of it on a BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘Soul Music’, and, when I was recording that interview at a studio in Downtown Vancouver (I live about 40 miles east of Vancouver, Canada) the producers at Audible listened in, and I passed the audition (which I didn’t know I was doing!) to narrate the first two of my books for the Audible version. A transformative piece, in so many ways.
The death of my father: the death of a parent is a trauma most of us have, or will, face. Dad’s death impacted me in many ways, one of which was to get me to sit my bum in a chair and start writing fiction. Why? Well, I’d had my only (until then) published work of fiction, a short crime story set in Wales entitled ‘Dear George’, produced as a BBC Radio 4 afternoon broadcast in a series called ‘Murder She Thought’. As you might imagine, Mum, Dad and my sister tuned in at home in Swansea at the appointed time, while I listened in Canada. We were all incredibly excited, and it was a special moment in my life. Dad died shortly thereafter, and I had to accept the fact that we’re not all immortal. I was facing fifty, and decided that, if I was ever going to write fiction, I’d better get on with it. My first novel was published a few years later, just before I turned fifty-two. Dad never got to read any of the fiction books I’ve written, but Mum does, and I’m glad I’ve done what I’ve done so far, so at least she can enjoy them…and glow with pride on her, and Dad’s, behalf.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: maybe you were one of those children who hated when it was time to read a Shakespearean play aloud in class, but I was one of those who loved it…revelled in it…looked forward to it. I adore the way Shakespeare’s words feel when you enunciate them, and his use of language, his turgid plots, his ability to condense complex emotions into a phrase that rings and sings never, ever, cease to amaze, and delight, me. I am a huge fan – and I finally allowed myself to run with that love in my latest book, The Corpse with the Granite Heart. The eleventh Cait Morgan Mystery is set in London, and focuses on the family of the late Oleg Asimov, a captain of industry and Shakespeare aficionado, who’s died a few weeks before the book opens. Each chapter is titled with a quote from the Great Bard’s works (with a list of sources at the end, of course!) and I’ve even used his classic tragic arc to shape the book, as we watch the fall of the house of Asimov. It’s been great fun, and my own humble homage to the man who invented words and turns of phrase we use so often today.
Geoffrey, my husband: no, I’m not going to get all gooey, but I know for a fact that without his support I wouldn’t have been able focus on being a full-time author since 2013. Not only that, he’s my rock in all matters, and we now run our publishing business together. We met at a rehearsal for the Swansea Gang Show in January 1972…blah…blah…blah…then got back together decades later, when I’d sold my business in London and made the move to Canada, to teach marketing on the MBA course at the University of British Columbia (he’d moved to Canada in the late 1970s)…and, yes, that’s all you’re getting 😉. We married, and now we live on five rural acres half way up a mountain in Canada (I used our home location as inspiration for the tenth Cait Morgan Mystery THE CORPSE WITH THE IRON WILL)…a life I couldn’t have imagined for myself as a girl back in Swansea, because I didn’t even know that such a life existed. He is the love of my life; I literally fell for him the moment I set eyes on him, and was the personification of ‘Puppy Love’, which was annoying…because it was Donny Osmond singing it, not David Cassidy, or David Bowie, or even Marc Bolan (wrinklies reading this will know what I mean!). January will mark fifty years since we met. That’s a lot. So, yes – he’s had a huge influence on my life, in all respects.
CrimeFest 2018 & 2019: after my first novel was published, in 2012, I had to decide how ‘seriously’ I was going to take the business of writing. Me being me, I threw myself into it, and began to attend all the crime writer/reader conventions I could manage, and they included CrimeFest which is held in Bristol each May. I believe the first I attended was 2016, then, in 2018, it was the end of the awards banquet on the Saturday night, and there was the usual rush to the doors to get to the bar downstairs. I slipped off to the outdoor terrace adjoining the banquet hall (it was a balmy evening) knowing it was a better spot to hang about until the crowd had dispersed. Martina Cole introduced me to her companion, Barry Ryan, and we chatted. I had no idea who he was (he knows this…now!) and we nattered about this and that. He asked me about my writing and…well, I don’t know many authors who don’t get passionate about their characters and stories – so I dare say I went on a bit…then we met again down at the bar…more chat. It was at this point that I discovered he is the joint MD of the Indie production company Free@LastTV, which brought the Agatha Raisin series to our TV screens. After the same banquet at CrimeFest a year later, he told me he wanted to option several of my books. And now? Well, my psychological suspense novel, The Wrong Boy, set on a remote Welsh peninsula inspired by Worm’s Head, Gower, has been optioned to become a three-part mini-series, and not only have the Cait Morgan Mysteries been optioned, but we’re currently working on the script for the pilot two-hour TV movie…which is thrilling beyond words.
The eleventh Cait Morgan Mystery, THE CORPSE WITH THE GRANITE HEART, was published on 5th November 2021. It is available as a paperback and as a digital book. If you’re ordering the paperback at your favourite local bookshop, or library, it’s available with the ISBN 978-1-990550-00-3. The digital book is available for Kindle, Kobo, or Nook, ISBN 978-1-9992230-9-0