Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Fiddler and the Scribbler... by Cathy Ace

Life: It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when?

WOW - thinking about this reminds me how many people I have lost touch with over the years, but also allows me to realise I have kept some people in my life for a very long time. I still connect with a girl I was in primary school with who's now a Member of Parliament in the UK, for example, and a guy from the same part of my life who's incredibly active in Swansea's arts-scene.  I have good friends who knew me when I was a teenager, and connecting with them (often through Facebook on an ongoing basis, but then in "real life" when I can) allows me to enjoy their achievements, which, quite honestly, is more comfortable for me than them commenting upon my writing career. 

I'll also share with you the fact that when my "middle school" (attended from age 11-13) honoured me by adding me to their list of "Past pupils who have achieved great things" in 2002 for my success in the fields of marketing and business, I was just about as chuffed as it's possible to be. I visited the school to present them with a special carving made by an artist close to my then-new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Manselton School - my "alma mater" - in 2002 (my head's in the back row!)

As for people who've "unexpectedly" acknowledged me???

Here I go, "sharing" again...I pretty much grew up on the stage in Wales; I was carried on as a baby for a scene in some play or other at the YMCA in Swansea in 1960, and I’ve never gone longer than a couple of months without giving some sort of performance since then. Leichner stage make-up is in my blood, I think. These days I tend to speak my own words on platforms and podiums, rather than those of a playwright on a stage with wings, backdrops and curtains, but it’s the same thing. Mum and Dad were also on the stage for more than a century, between them, (they met at rehearsals for a musical, in much the same way as my husband and I met at rehearsals for a scout and guide "Gang Show"), and back in 1971 I was one of Tevye’s children in the Swansea Amateur Operatic Society’s performance of Fiddler on the Roof - in which my mum, dad and sister all also performed. The titular Fiddler was played by a talented teen from Gowerton School (the same school my dad attended...yes, it's a small world) – named Mark Thomas. 

Mark played violin in the West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra, and became lead violin with them; I was in the West Glamorgan Youth Choir, Chamber Choir and Theatre group, so Mark and I attended residential courses for rehearsals for years (yes, it was all a bit like FAME!), and he also attended University College Cardiff (studying music) a couple of years ahead of me. At one point he lived in a student accommodation flat just below my own. When I moved to London, he was living there, earning his way as a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was co-leader of the Royal Ballet Orchestra. I attended lots of his performances.

Years passed, and paths diverged. He’s ended up having a wildly successful career in music, as a movie and TV composer; he’s won a BAFTA, been nominated many times since, and has been nominated for an Emmy, as well as having his music performed in festivals around the world. He's talented, and works hard.

Last year, during one of my trips back to Wales, a group of us who all came through the West Glamorgan youth arts programmes for schools got together for a drink (or two!). I hadn't seen a couple of them for about twenty years. It was great fun to catch up – and Mark kept introducing me to people around us as though I’m some incredibly successful author, dropping into the conversation the fact I've had twelve books published and that my work's been on BBC Radio 4…which all felt sort of weird, but lovely too. Maybe as someone who earns a living in the arts he understands how difficult it is to catch a break, and then to have the chance to follow through.

It all felt a bit strange, especially since we Welsh know the greatest compliment anyone can be paid is that "s/he hasn't forgotten where s/he came from"...which basically means it's absolutely NOT okay to talk about yourself as though you've ever achieved anything - because that would be boasting, which is a mortal sin for a Welsh person (and which is why all the self-promotion we need to do as authors comes to me with a great big dollop of guilt on the side).

It also had a super spin-off: he and another old friend of mine from "West Glam" days, Griff Harries, have created a performance piece called The Armistice Suite – which will be seen around Wales this year, commemorating the Armistice a hundred years ago, and taking a look at the First World War through Welsh eyes. I was delighted when they asked me to read through the piece and give an author! WOOT. 

Tidy (as we say in Swansea!).

Keep an eye out for The Armistice Suite:

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Susan C Shea said...

I learned a lot about what makes you such a firecracker by reading this, Cathy. And how wonderful to have people who knew you 'way back when' who think of you as a big deal success!

Cathy Ace said...

I'm a firecracker? Oh my...and there's me thinking I'm rather subdued, these days, when compared with my younger self (and my old friends agree - which might be rather worrying!). And it's great they are impressed - though, as I said, it does feel weird

Griff Harries said...

All of us back here in Swansea are very proud of you Cath. I write this in the gloaming of a fine evening here in Mumbles - I might just find my way to the local hostelry we both like - and quaff a glass to you later. We love to hear of your success - and yes, we unashamedly boast of knowing you. Being Welsh, we enjoy nothing more than to tell stories and reminisce - usually in the pub and your presence at these sessions - whenever you're back home - is a joy. We always have so much to catch up on and next time will be no different.
This is a lovely article and I thank you for the mention but to call me a "scribbler" in such hallowed company as yourself is really being overly kind. Mark is indeed a real musical genius.. Hopefully, you can hear the "Armistice Suite" when you're back next. We perform in Neath on June the 8th and in Reynoldston as part of the Gower Festival on July 14th.
Look forward to seeing you soon.
Much love,

Paul D. Marks said...

It's great to still be in touch with so many people from your younger days, Cathy. And keep us posted about the World War I piece. That sounds fascinating.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks, Paul - I HOPE I get to see it!

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Griff - thanks for sweet. I'll get int ouch about my next sortie to Wales via email (you know, not so public!!) but am looking forward to hopefully seeing you guys next month :-) Cx