Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Me, myself, and I, confess... by Cathy Ace

Did you base any characters in your books on friends or family?

To all my friends and family – the answer to this question is…if I did, I only did it for the nice characters!

To everyone else reading this…I have to admit, yes, I did. However, in the spirit of fairness, before I lay bare any secrets about other people, I’ll do it to myself.
Me, myself, and even I, are very much the basis for Cait Morgan: she’s facing fifty (I was 52 when the first book was published, just fifty-and-a-half when I wrote it); she's a short, overindulgent Welsh Canadian foodie who teaches at a university in British Columbia (this was me when I began writing the series, though I have since left that day job); she’s quite bossy, judgmental and self-centered (sadly me); she has a difficult past when it comes to men (definitely me) including a dead
ex-boyfriend (unfortunately me – though I wasn’t arrested on suspicion of his murder, as Cait was); she finds herself with a chance of happiness she’d never expected and marriage to a wonderful man who balances her life in ways she never knew it needed (happily me).

Cait and I are from the same part of Swansea, went to the same school (Llwyn y bryn), attended the same university from which we both graduated in psychology, then we even took the same job – working in a marketing communications agency on a variety of advertising, PR and media accounts. At that point our career paths went off in different directions: I stayed in the world of marketing communications setting up my own business (at the idiotically tender age of 28) which I eventually grew to be the largest of its type in Europe. I sold it and “retired” at 40, only then entering the world of academe as an adjunct professor of marketing on the MBA course at the University of British Columbia and then at Simon Fraser University. Cait left the world of marketing communications in her early twenties – irritated by the folks she worked with – and took her Masters’ degree at Cambridge. She left the UK for Canada to escape the tabloids (I didn’t have to do this, thank goodness) and wound up at the University of Vancouver (a mash-up of UBC and SFU…because I can’t afford any lawsuits!). We both belong to Mensa, enjoy the company of Labradors and will always try something new to eat or drink, even if it’s a nose-wrinkling experience. Neither of us enjoys the idea of exercise, let alone doing it, and I like the fact she solves whodunits with her brain, not using any sort of a weapon (okay, maybe she’s resorted to bonking someone on the head with a champagne bottle, but that’s about it). 

Having exposed myself – what about anyone else? Cait has a sister, so do I. Cait’s sister is Sian, and she has some elements of my own sister in her: a love for, and deep understanding of, opera and classical music; a particular enjoyment of the voice of Jonas Kaufmann; an enviable ability to knit; Sian lives in Perth, Australia – my sister did so for years. That said, my sister isn’t married with children, so I gave Sian some “additions” my sister doesn’t have.

Me with "half of Annie Parker"
In the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries I have a few people in mind when I’m writing. Annie Parker is a mixture of two good friends: the real Londoner Annie has been my very good friend for more than twenty years and brings the clumsy elements of the character (even she’ll admit this is true), while Eustelle (of St Lucian heritage, with a love of hot sauce and an acrimonious relationship with her backside) was my next door neighbor in London for almost two decades – I’ve pinched her name for Annie Parker’s mother. Carol Hill is also a synthesis of two people I know well: Carol, who’s not Welsh but is lovely and wonderfully bright when it comes to anything to do with numbers, and Chris with whom I shared a flat at university, who came from a Welsh farm and was the gentlest person you could wish to meet, with a warm, ready smile and always ready lend a helping hand. Mavis MacDonald is a mix of another of my university room-mates, Jennifer, who was a sharp, intense Scot with a deeply-held belief that a life lived in the service of justice was the best way to be, and Rose, who was the lady who cleaned the office I had at UBC – she was doing it so she and the family could enjoy a couple of months in a condo in Maui every year…her reputation for not taking any nonsense from anyone (whatever their title) was well-earned. Christine Wilson-Smythe is based upon three people…all of whom will remain nameless, but with whom I used to spend a fair amount of “social time” in London during the ‘eighties  and ‘nineties. It was the heyday of the Sloane Rangers, let’s just leave it at that.
The favorite hot sauce of "the other half of Annie Parker"

I hope no one comes after me with a knife for this! Honestly, even when I find myself using elements of someone I know for a character – be it a quirk of their movement or a phrase they use often (sometimes unwittingly) – I do it with love. If I didn’t enjoy spending time with my characters I’d never visit them again. I will also admit that the characteristics of many more friends and family members probably also seep into my writing – unbidden and often unnoticed by even this author herself.

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in February, and book #1 THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER was published in trade paperback on March 1st) and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE is published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  (Sign up by April 1st and you'll be entered to win a signed copy of The Corpse with the Garnet Face.)


Allan J. Emerson said...

Great to hear the makeup of some of your characters and how parts of them overlap with people you know in real life. (I've only drawn from two real life characters, and both were cats.) An entertaining take on an interesting past.

Anonymous said...

I recognised the Llwyn-y-Bryn badge immediately! As worn on the bottle green blazer in the 70's :)

Cathy Ace said...

Glad you enjoyed it Allan (I can;t seem to reply directly to your comment!) I will also admit that Cait and Bud's dog Marty might have a little in common with my two chocolate Labradors! :-)

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks you, Anonymous - ah yes, those blazers. I didn't have one, personally...I was one of the navy blue cardigan mob! :-)

Unknown said...

Cait Morgan is on my list - especially now that I have this angle on who she is!