Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales and Cathy is, like her heroine Cait Morgan, now a Canadian citizen. In Cathy’s words: “Cait’s Welsh Canadian, as am I. They say ‘write what you know’, so a short, plus-sized Welsh woman, who’s quite bossy, fits the bill! But Cait and I are not one and the same: she’s got skills and talents I don’t possess, and I’m delighted to say that I don’t usually encounter corpses wherever I go. I’ve burrowed even deeper into my roots by creating a cast of characters in the WISE women who come from all four corners of the United Kingdom and work in a uniquely British Setting – a ducal estate set in the rolling Welsh countryside of the Wye Valley in Powys, where I spent a good deal of time when I was young.”
Cathy’s short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. Two of her works, “Dear George” and “Domestic Violence”, have also been produced by Jarvis & Ayres Productions as “Afternoon Reading” broadcasts for BBC Radio 4.
Cathy won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery (for THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR) and was shortlisted again in 2017 (for THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE). “Steve’s Story”, which appears in The Whole She Bang 3, published by Sisters in Crime Toronto, was shortlisted for Best Short Story in the 2017 Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing.
Sin-CW: What was the inspiration for both your series, the Cait Morgan Mysteries and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries?
Cathy Ace: I think that, like many writers, I initially created a character close to my heart – and to myself, personally. Cait Morgan is a short, overweight, bossy Welshwoman, who is a professor of criminal psychology at a university in Vancouver.
When I wrote the first two books I was still lecturing at Simon Fraser University in marketing and marketing communications, not criminology. I was able to audit the entire criminology syllabus when I was there, which was fantastic! I’m not Cait, and she’s not me, but there are definite similarities. I have spent my life traveling a great deal, and have been fortunate to live and work in some wonderful places around the world. I took Cait on journeys to many of those places – places where I was able to write with real knowledge about the locale, history, architecture, art, people, food and drink… the critical factors that mold and express culture.
For the WISE Enquiries Agency mysteries, I wanted to use a setting that allowed me to spend more time “back in my homeland” of Wales. I migrated to Canada in 2000 and, although I still visit my family in Wales frequently, I wanted to “spend more time there,” which the books allow me to do. I also wanted to use multiple points of view and voices – rather than the first person I’d been using for Cait.
What is it about those locales that made you want to set your series there?
Personally, I’m not keen on the process of travel – especially these days. But I very much enjoy “being” somewhere “else.” Having traveled for decades both on business and because I am an inquisitive person, I have developed a fascination for how outsiders see places versus how those places are made and experienced by those who have always lived there. The world has so much to offer, but I’m only too well aware that, for many, visiting other countries is not possible. So I do my best to bring the places I love to those who can enjoy them in their armchairs, reading nooks, or in bed before they turn out the light. Each Cait Morgan book takes place in a different country, and each mystery really could only happen exactly where it’s set, as I like to weave the locale into the work so thoroughly that it becomes a character in its own right. There are still many places I would enjoy taking my readers.
Please tell us about your writing workspace.
I’m sitting at the dining table – because my writing room is in such a mess! A “big sort out” stalled, and I can’t face the piles of paper in what needs to be a mentally quiet place, so I’m now ignoring it and have moved my laptop to the dining table – which gives me a great view out, which is rather distracting!
Do you remember what sparked the idea for any of your stories? Tell us about one.
I can’t say too much, because it would result in a great big spoiler, but The Corpse with the Silver Tongue grew out of a moment of inspiration that struck when I was listening to a program on BBC Radio 4 about snail farmers in Scotland. Until that moment I’d been happy to eat escargots without thinking about the fact that snails might actually be farmed, as opposed to… I don’t know… picked at random from the fields? I learned a lot listening to that program… and put it all to nefarious use.
Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?
Writing is, at its heart, a solitary process, and existence. I, personally, am also someone who tends to stand outside, looking in. That said, when my first novel was published I realized I knew nothing about the world of crime writing, or crime publishing… I knew a great deal about crime reading, as that was my reading genre of choice, so I joined Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) in 2012. In 2013 I became regional representative for BC, in 2014 I became National Vice President (a title changed to Vice Chair in 2015 when Canadian bylaws shifted) and then was Chair from 2016-2018. I’ll be “Past Chair” until the current Chair (Mike Martin) steps down. As you can imagine, therefore, CWC has taken up most of my time and energy for the past six years. Now that I am able to take a backseat, I’ll make sure my memberships of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers Association (UK), Mystery Writers of America and Crime Cymru are all areas I’ll grow into. I find the aforementioned bodies useful because I can dip into all of them for insights (pertaining to different markets, audiences, and specific subgenres) but I’m promising myself to keep my membership online, because that’s where I find the “socializing” to be most useful.
Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.
The first short story I wrote was called “Dear George.” I was waiting at an airport for my sister, whose flight was delayed… I bought a magazine that had a short story-writing competition in it… I entered. As a result, “Dear George” was published in the 1980s in an anthology with works by “real authors,” and I was chuffed to bits! I had also just set up my own business, so I wasn’t about to give that up just because of one short story. The story was anthologized again in a book called Thrillers which was a set book on the GSCE English Language syllabus in the UK (the exam all 16 year-olds sit), which was fantastic, and was then produced for BBC Radio 4 in 2007. It was this which spurred me to begin to write fiction again – which I did in 2007, self-publishing a collection of short stories, then a collection of novellas in 2008. I have recently re-written and re-edited that original collection (though I think I’m correct in saying that I changed maybe only two sentences in “Dear George”) and the collection Murder Keeps No Calendar contains many of them, plus some newer pieces.
Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?
I’m most definitely a planner. I know some authors say they sit down and just let the story flow from their fingertips, and I think I envy them… but it wouldn’t work for me.
For me? I think through the entire story until I can run it in my head like a movie, from beginning to end. Then I do the outlines of the “acts,” then the “scenes.” For each scene I know where it takes place, who’s there, the role they’ll play, and what has to happen by the end. I lay all this out within an Excel spreadsheet, then add a column for what I hope the reader will feel (rather than know) at the end of that scene. When it comes to writing the first draft I work from that outline. If it needs to change, I change it, but it usually stays pretty much as I had planned it.
Do you think there were early influences as a reader that have guided the stories you create as a writer? What were they?
I grew up (as did so many I know) reading Nancy Drew books, plus a wide range of works by Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie. Throw in Ngaio Marsh and Ellery Queen and you’ve got the background to most of my early reading, which all absolutely influenced my writing. Traditional crime is the core of my work – it’s where I am happy to read, and write.
You’ve recently moved into the independent publishing world from traditional publishing. What has that been like?
I would characterize today’s world of independent publishing as a place where you can do whatever you like… as long as you learn the rules of the game first. There’s a huge learning curve just in terms of formatting, etc., but what you also need to understand is how people want to read your work. I ended up publishing in mobi for Kindle and via Createspace for print via Amazon, but also through Ingram Spark for print to be available through bookstores and libraries, as well as epub for Kobo and Nook. All need slightly different formatting, all need you to jump through the hoops in terms of setting up accounts, getting to know their systems. But it seems to be working (I think!).
Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? If music, what kind?
I’m an absolute silence kinda gal! Of course there’s no such thing, but I’m lucky enough to live halfway up a little mountain where we have no through traffic, so I can usually hear the birds singing rather than the thrum of traffic, which suits me down to the ground. I can work if there’s “white noise” like news TV in the background, but just can’t cope if I can half hear a bass beat in the distance, for example.
Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next.
As I write this I’m awaiting feedback from my editor and beta readers on “something new.” In my recent collection Murder Keeps No Calendar, readers were able to be on the spot when Cait Morgan first met Bud Anderson, and when the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency decided to work together… they also met DI Evan Glover of the West Glamorgan Police Service.
In my new book, The Wrong Boy, Evan is two days from retirement, and encounters the most baffling case of his career. This is closer to being a domestic thriller, with a thread of non-procedural police intervention than it is to “traditional” crime. As for what I’ll do with it… oh my goodness me, I wish I could tell you. Suffice to say, I am talking to all sorts of people about all sorts of possibilities at the moment. I fired my agent last year, and walked away from a contract with an existing publisher – so I am free and clear and… having to decide exactly what to do, and how, next. Having dreamed of being published by a traditional publisher, and of finding an agent, I am now peculiarly unafraid of being without either. I don’t know why I’m not scared, I’m just not. I’m happy with where I am at the moment, and looking forward to whatever the next chapter brings – though, unfortunately, I know I can’t write it like I would a scene in a book and have it turn out exactly as I might wish. One thing I do know for certain is that a re-written and re-edited collection of four novellas, Murder Knows No Season, will be out before the end of 2018; I have my editor booked, and have to work on the manuscript quite soon. Then… who knows? Watch this space!
To be up to date with all Cathy’s news, follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cathy-Ace-Author-318388861616661/ and on Twitter, you can find her here: @AceCathy