Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Simon Says vs Chatty Cathy...by Cathy Ace



“Reading—What authors particularly inspire you? Do you read them when you are working on a book?”

Oh heck – this is a tough one to answer! Second question first – I don’t read when I’m writing…I just cannot do it. Not because I’m afraid I’ll start writing just like Agatha Christie (!!!) or any other author, but because when I’m working on a book I’m so completely immersed in the world I’m creating that I barely have room for the real one, let alone the inventions of other authors. So, not reading novels while I’m writing one is my way of hanging onto my sanity.

Some of my Christie books
As for reading when I’m not writing – yes, I still do that! Over the years I have broadened and deepened my list of “authors whose work I have read”, but I have to admit I am probably still most influenced by those whose works I read earliest and have therefore re-read for the longest period of time. Agatha Christie’s works have had a profound effect on me; I own at least one copy of everything she ever wrote (plays and memoirs included) and have lost count of the number of times I have read each one. I’ll admit not every book is “brilliant in every respect”, and some might be said to be a little “clunky”, BUT Christie at her worst is better than so many other writers, I’ll step back into the metaphorical “comfy slippers” her works offer at the drop of the proverbial hat rather than wade through something that doesn’t hold me, or appeal to me.

I also read a great deal of Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers and Ellery Queen when I was young – and still read their work now, so all of that must have influenced me.

As I write this blog post I am asking myself “In what way/s have they influenced me?” and this is what I’ve come up with…

Structure, setting, characterization, the laying down of clues, playing fair with the reader or specifically deciding to not do that – all these things were laid down in my psyche because of my early reading. Topics? Christie, Wentworth, Marsh, Queen and more wrote about extra-marital affairs, sex before/outside marriage, drug dealing and addiction, alcoholism, espionage, violent theft, serial killers, psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and so many types of characters or situations we often forget they tackled when we think of their work. They might not have used foul language, or have dwelt on the gory physiological aspects of a crime, but they certainly examined the psychological damage done, and did so in a pretty intense way in many cases. So, by starting my crime-reading life with their books, I gave myself a framework for when I began to write. Every topic I’ve mentioned above is contained within what I’ve written in my traditional Cait Morgan Mysteries. So, there’s that…

Nowadays I try hard to read works by authors I have met and come to know – and I have to admit I am not sure how much that reading influences me. I suspect it does in that it marks out for me what “their territory” is…and allows me to see what’s working well in the marketplace and how good writing sells. I’m always trying to learn, and, while I believe there’s a lot to be learned from authors who were working many decades ago, I am also sure there’s a great deal I can learn from those who are writing today. 

With Sue Grafton - a living inspiration!
An example here would be the work of Sue Grafton; I think it was the Kinsey Millhone books that allowed me to understand the different way that a “Golden Age” book (be it about the sleuth Miss Marple or the PI Poirot) vs a “modern” book about a professional investigator can and should work. Let’s be honest, we never get the feeling that Poirot is taking on a case because he needs the business – I know he has Miss Lemon to organize his correspondence and immaculate filing system, and that he is commissioned to take cases but, rather like the Sherlock Holmes tradition, we’re aware of Poirot “picking” his cases rather than having to do something to allow him to pay the bills (for Poirot aficionados, yes, I know there are a couple of times where the state of his bank account means he takes a case he might have allowed to pass him by, but that’s not his usual motivation). Kinsey Millhone is a true professional, and her “cases” often build from seemingly innocent/slightly boring or uninspiring beginnings. That’s how my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries work – with my four professional private investigators taking on a case – after the proper signing of contracts, of course – which leads them somewhere they never expected. Of course, Kinsey's in the USA in the 1980s and my WISE women are in Wales today, but...you know. So there’s that…

This is a bit like peeling an onion…I know I have never, ever, set out to "copy" the style/shape of another author's work, but there must be innumerable ways in which what I read fifty years ago (Enid Blyton’s “Secret Seven” books) or fifty days ago (Elly Griffiths’ “The Crossing Places”) has and will influence me – be that in a turn of phrase, or an entire structure for a character/tale/series. Maybe I’ll never really know where certain inspirations come from, and maybe that’s for the best; I’d like to believe I’ve come up with some of the stuff I write all on my own, you see!

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

4 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

I always enjoy seeing how we got to where we are as writers, Cathy, and who influenced us on the road there. Thanks.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks for dropping by, Paul. This was an interesting question to answer...as are so many of the questions we tackle here.

Susan C Shea said...

I remember when I was just getting started, long before an agent, much less a publishing contract, I was worried that I would unconsciously copy another writer. The more I know, the more I realize how unlikely that is except for the rush of "Girl" titled books and before that of Dan Brown Vatican conspiracy books and before that..Yes, I guess copycats do exist but we're not among them!

Cathy Ace said...

As my title suggests, Susan, I hope I'm Chatty Cathy rather than someone following the rules of Simon Says, but I'm also sure we're all influenced innumerable ways by everything we've read over the years.