AmeriCymru: Hi Cathy and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What is your connection with Wales and where do you currently reside?
Cathy: Hello Ceri, thanks for having me along today, I’m delighted to be here. My connection with Wales? Born in Swansea (Mount Pleasant Hospital, for those who know the area) in South Wales and lived there until I went off to study at University College Cardiff (as it was then – this is back in the days when UWIST still existed, in the 1970s). I graduated in psychology and, as is often the case, was drawn to London by the lure of a career which, for me, meant working in media, advertising and public relations. I did that until 1988 when I set up my own company to plan and deliver brand-building campaigns for clients, and train their staff to do the same. Gradually my business morphed into 100% training and development for organizations around the world, so a great deal of travel was involved; I once calculated that from the mid-1990s for five years I was only at my flat in London for 2-3 months per year!
In 2000 I took the big step of moving from London to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada; the University of British Columbia (UBC) “imported” me to teach marketing on their MBA course (as a part of my marketing career I’d had nine textbooks about marketing and marketing communications published) and I later moved to teach at Simon Fraser University and the University of the Fraser Valley, when my husband and I moved to a rural property which made the commute to UBC too much of a burden. I now live on five acres of rural paradise about 35 miles east of downtown Vancouver, so I’m truly a “country mouse” (remember those Tom & Jerry cartoons?) and am pleased I no longer live in an urban environment. It seems I’ve inherited my Mum and Dad’s green thumbs; we actively garden about three of our five acres.
Although I haven’t lived in Wales since 1982, it will always be “home” and my family is still there, as well as many friends. I manage to get back to Wales at least once a year, and I speak to my mum and sister on the phone every day (my dad died ten years ago). Add to that the fact my husband is also from Swansea, and you can imagine my Welsh accent is still something about which my fellow Canadians, and my many American friends, comment. Odd thing – I was in Bristol, UK in May this year for a crime writers’ convention, and quite a lot of the Brit authors wondered where my accent was from…it seems I’ve knocked off the edges of the Welsh aspects quite a bit, and my slight Canadian twang suggested to many I might now live in Ireland!
AmeriCymru: Why did you make the shift in your life from what it was to what it is now?
Cathy: I’ve been fortunate to have a career which has allowed me to write for a living – but for clients and about topics that suited their communications campaigns, or for clients who needed training courses developed. Back in 1988 I was stuck at an airport and picked up a magazine that was running a competition called “Murder and be published”. I submitted a short story, and was, indeed, published! Of course, as is often the way in life, the publication of that short story coincided with me setting up my own business; I took the option over which I felt I had most control and stuck to my marketing career. In 2006 I was approached by the wonderful British actors Martin Jarvis and his wife Rosalind Ayers asking to produce that original short story (which had been anthologized into a book which appeared on the UK’s 16-year-olds’ GCSE syllabus) for BBC Radio 4. I was, of course, thrilled, and one of my proudest moments was sitting in my study in Canada listening to the broadcast at an ungodly hour, knowing my Mum, Dad and sister were doing the same thing in Wales.
My father’s death in 2006 was the catalyst that made me realize we aren’t all immortal, after all, and that I should do something about my desire to write fiction. I was still teaching a full slate at university at that time, but wrote and self-published a collection of short stories and then a collection of novella (both now out of print) which I then submitted to a publisher in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. I sent them along with a “ransom note” – you know the sort of thing…letters and words snipped out of newspapers – begging them to “release” my characters. They invited me to submit a novel manuscript featuring Welsh Cait Morgan, who had moved to live just outside Vancouver where she teaches at a university, so she was the one character I’d created with a Canadian connection. That book was the first one published, and, since then, I’ve continued to write the Cait Morgan Mysteries. I “retired” from my second, academic, career, in 2013.
It’s strange how life works out; I went to university to study English because I wanted to be a writer. In those days, at Welsh universities, one had to study three subjects for the first year, then specialize in one or two for the final two years. Though I began by studying English I changed to psychology – I decided I didn’t want to spend three years of my life reading what others had written and critiquing it, but preferred to try to understand the human condition myself…and I know that was the right choice for me. Now I’m able to use my background in psychology to weave mysteries where motives need to be uncovered, so the full circle has turned.
AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little about your fictional sleuth Cait Morgan?
Cathy: Ah….Cait Morgan, bless her heart! First off, her given name is Caitlin, in honour of Dylan Thomas’s wife, though she’s always known as Cait. And Morgan? I just like the feeling of that name as I speak it; no family connections at all (in case anyone is wondering, yes, my real name is Ace…though it’s my maiden name).
Cait’s a lot like me: she went to the same schools I went to (Manselton, Brynhyfryd and Llwyn y Bryn, for those who care about these thing) grew up in Manselton like I did, and has my own overindulgent streak. She’s sharp and brilliant, and, like many Welsh women, fiercely independent. A happily single professional, I made her a psychologist, like me, and even set her up working in an advertising agency – though in the first book, THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE, I kill off her old boss (make of that what you will).
Another thing I did with Cait was to allow her to travel to the parts of the world I’ve visited and either lived or worked in. So far her adventures have taken her to the south of France (THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE), British Columbia’s wine country (THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE), Pacific coastal Mexico (THE CORPSE WITH THE EMERALD THUMB), Las Vegas (THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR which won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Light Mystery in Canada), the Gower Peninsular in South Wales (THE CORPSE WITH THE SAPPHIRE EYES), a cruise ship touring the Hawai’ian Islands (THE CORPSE WITH THE DIAMOND HAND), Amsterdam (THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE) and, in October/November this year she’ll be in Budapest (THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS). Like me she enjoys art, architecture, history, food and drink – so I also let her indulge in all those aspects of each culture…as well as solving a puzzling, traditional closed-circle mystery.
When authors create characters for a series of books they have to decide if those characters will age and develop as the series progresses or if they’ll, essentially, remain unchanged; think about Poirot and Miss Marple – they hardly changed at all through their books, but the expectations amongst readers has shifted these days. As such, I allowed Cait to form a meaningful relationship with a former colleague for whom she’d used her psychological victim-profiling skills, so, by book #8, she’s married and facing the challenges of sharing her life with someone. She’s also just a few months away from fifty, so also facing the challenges of “acting like a grown-up” too!
I admit I enjoy spending time with Cait – she’s like me, but not me. For one thing, I’ve aged a lot faster than she has, and I’m not as successful at managing my waistline!
AmeriCymru: Your other series features the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. What can you tell us about them?
Cathy: I’d written a few Cait books before I found myself an agent. When I did, she knew she’d have to approach the market with an alternative proposition, so I returned to a group of characters I’d created back in the days when I was working on short stories and novella. The WISE Enquiries Agency is staffed by four women – one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English – hence the acronym.
Cait’s always off to another part of the world and encounters a fresh cast of characters with each book, but with the WISE Women I’m able to develop a closer relationship with one main setting. Having grown up with a dad whose Ford Anglia was, I swear, his most prized possession, which transported the family along winding Welsh lanes each weekend, I’d covered a fair amount of the local countryside. Dad had relatives living in Hay-on-Wye, so, rather than place my WISE Women in Swansea, I dropped them into the Wye Valley. Their first book (THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER) finds them working in an office in London, but by the end of that book they have relocated to Wales (I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to find out why!). I invented the Chellingworth Estate and the village of Anwen-by-Wye for these books, and have populated them with characters who live and work in today’s rural Wales. Of course the opportunity to write about the family at Chellingworth Hall – the Duke, Duchess, Dowager and staff – as well as those who live in the village, where there are four pubs and one church (it is Wales, after all) is great fun. And the professional detectives scour much of South Wales in their cases. The second book (THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER) allowed me to take a closer look at some old Welsh customs and the next book (THE CURIOUS COOK) is firmly rooted in Hay-on-Wye itself…where bookshops and shenanigans abound.
It’s fun for me to write this much “cozier” series; Cait’s books are very much like Agatha Christie set-ups, but the WISE Women are a bit more like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, in that it’s their job to investigate, but set in a stately home and village. This group also gives me that chance to work with women from different backgrounds, who all pull together as a team that’s fit-for-purpose. Carol Hill is Welsh, in her mid-thirties and a happily pregnant, happily married typical Welshwoman, who just happens to be a computer whizz; Christine Wilson-Smythe is the brilliant and beautiful daughter of a cash-poor Irish viscount; Mavis MacDonald is a retired, widowed, army nurse whose grown sons live in her native Scotland; Annie Parker was born within the sound of Bow Bells to parents who’d migrated from St. Lucia to London– so is a Cockney through and through. They’re a fun bunch to be with, and they are aided and abetted by Althea Twyst, the dowager duchess of Chellingworth who, at almost eighty, can give many younger people more than a run for their money.
All their cases are going to be quintessentially British, and I couldn’t be happier than to face the prospect of writing more about Wales.
Hay on Wye, location of the next WISE Enquiries detective agency mystery
AmeriCymru: What first interested you in Crime fiction? Who are your favourite crime writers?
Cathy: I grew up reading Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven….then discovered my mum’s Agatha Christie books and never looked back! I think I got hooked on Christie when I was about ten, and my mum and I used to be able to discuss her books, which was lovely (we still do, though in the shorthand way that lovers of Christie can adopt). I still return to Christie for inspiration, and am ridiculously proud that I own a copy of everything she wrote (most bound in red, and sitting in pride of place in my writing room). I also enjoyed Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers. Nowadays I can hardly wait for the newest Grafton or Rankin, but have to admit I don’t read as much as I’d like to. My “To Be Read” pile is now a “To Be Read” heap, and I keep meeting authors whose work I want to dive into. That’s one of the best things about being an author – attending the conferences and conventions where we meet our readers, and each other.
AmeriCymru: Do you have any upcoming readings or events that you would like to mention?
Cathy: I travel a great deal supporting my work: in September I’ll be in New Orleans at Bouchercon, the world’s biggest mystery convention, and in March next year I’ll be in Honolulu for Left Coast Crime, which celebrates the work of “we lefties”! April sees the annual migration of traditional mystery authors to Bethesda, MD, for the Malice Domestic convention, and I’ll get back to Wales to stay with Mum in May around the time I attend CrimeFest in Bristol. Between those Big Trips I attend any number of signings and readings local to my home in BC – the best way to stalk me is to check the Events tab on my website.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Cathy Ace? Are you working on a new title currently?
Cathy: Next? Oh my word it’s a busy time coming up *smiley face*. October 17th sees the release of Cait Morgan Mystery #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS in Canada. That’ll be reaching stores in the US at the beginning of November, and I’ll be supporting its publication with what’s known as a Blog Tour – where I write posts and do interviews for a dozen or so blogs. The book is pre-ordering online now. On November 1st the paperback version of the second WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER, is launched in Canada and the US; it’s been available in hardcover for some time, but the paperback launch makes it more accessible. Then, also in November, the third WISE book is launched in hardcover in the UK, and it will reach the US and Canada in March 2017. I’m currently plotting the fourth WISE book, and am also working on something new, about which I can say nothing – sorry!
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Cathy: One of the things I’ve discovered since I moved to Canada is that many people I meet tell me they have Welsh ancestry. And they say it proudly. That’s fantastic! Like most people I am well aware of the mass migrations of the Irish and of the fact they still have cultural outposts around north America…the Welsh seem to be less obvious, but I know they are there. As an immigrant, I know I’ll always be Welsh, and always becoming Canadian, but I hope to hang onto my Welsh stubbornness (call it doggedness or stick-at-it-ness if you prefer) along with my accent and, yes, even the hiraeth I feel for the sweeping bays of Swansea, the rugged clifftops and rock pools of Gower, or the mounding sheep-nibbled hillsides of the Swansea Valley and Brecon Beacons. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t been to Wales – go. You’ll love it! The people are great, the landscape is fabulous and the food…go on, give it a try!
Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, worked for decades in marketing communications, and migrated to Canada in 2000. Having traveled the world for work and pleasure for many years, Cathy put her knowledge of the cultures, history, art and food she encountered to good use in The Cait Morgan Mysteries – a series of traditional closed-circle murder mysteries featuring globetrotting professor of criminal psychology, and foodie sleuth, Cait Morgan. Ace’s new series is set in her native Wales: The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries feature four female professional investigators, one of whom is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English. They tackle quirky British cases from their base at a Welsh stately home – the ancient seat of the Twyst family, the Dukes of Chellingworth, set in the rolling countryside of the Wye Valley in Powys, near the picturesque village of Anwen-by-Wye. Cathy now lives in Beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband, and two chocolate Labradors, make sure she’s able to work full-time as an author, and enjoy her other passion – gardening. Bestselling author Ace is the 2015 winner of the Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery (for The Corpse with the Platinum Hair). AmeriCymru spoke to Cathy about her life and writing.