Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mum's the word... by Cathy Ace

Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

When I was writing my first novel, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, I sent chapters to my mother over the internet each night, and she was my first, eager reader, literally watching the story grow as it left my fingertips. By default, therefore, she became my visualized ‘particular’ reader. This process continued for a few books, but then it became more difficult for her to read this way, so now she waits until my books are published, and I make sure she gets the earliest possible copy. But she’s still inside my head as I plot and write…though I know I have many readers who are a) not female, b) not in their eighties, and c) not Welsh!

With Mum at Brynhyfryd Library (my childhood library) in 2018

Fortunately for me, Mum has been an avid reader of mysteries for about sixty years, so she knows a good plot twist, or an unresolved red herring, when she sees one, meaning I felt ‘professionally’ safe in her hands. And, of course, I want Mum to be proud of everything I do; she’ll always be the one reader in the world I truly hope enjoys my books (plus my sister and husband, too!). The other good thing is that Mum’s not afraid to ask questions, point out problems, or even typos (to prove this, she gave me notes yesterday about typos in one of my books published in 2014, which she’s rereading), and that’s all very helpful. And it’s these aspects of Mum as a reader which I do think makes her more similar to most of my readers – they are likely to be people who have read a lot of mysteries over the years, and are likely to spot problems/issues in a flash. (Author/Editor beware!)

Mum in Swansea Library with the book she read almost literally as I wrote it 

Other than that, I try to not have a vision in my head of the person I am writing for, other than myself. Honestly, I don’t think I could write for any particular person other than me, because that mythical other person is changing all the time without my knowledge or understanding, so I couldn’t keep hitting the mark. Of course, I’m also changing all the time too, and am trying to square that circle each time I write a book. While I don’t write for a particular or more-than-generally-typical reader, what I do believe – and absolutely respect – is that readers come to a series of books with a set of expectations. I know I do, as a reader, and I want “my author” to deliver against those expectations. That means, as a writer, I have to acknowledge that I have aged (and hopefully improved!) almost ten years since I wrote my first Cait Morgan Mystery, but Cait’s aged less than three years…so there’s a lot less room for personal development/changes in habits etc. for her than for me.

TWINS!! Me and Mum, July 2019 (haven't been able to see her since then)

In the tenth book in the series (The Corpse with the Iron Will – pub date June 3rd) Cait’s at home for a change (each Cait Morgan Mystery takes place in a different country) and this time, solving a puzzling crime is not something she tackles while surrounded by people she’ll probably never meet again but it’s almost literally on her own doorstep. This is allowing me to examine issues like “what does home mean?” and “what does community mean?” at a time when I think we’re all reconsidering those questions for ourselves. Cait needs to grow, she needs to develop, but the plot still needs to be a traditional puzzle plot, the characters still need to be fully formed with believable psyches and motivations, and there still need to be twists and turns on the journey the reader takes with Cait and Bud…some which I know experienced readers will probably guess, some I hope they won’t. So, while I cannot say I have a typical reader, I can say I do my best to respect what I believe are typical expectations of my books (whichever series/standalone in question) by readers who have every right to get what they hope for when they shell out their hard-earned pennies for my books.

I hope they are happy, and I hope Mum is proud.

I hope Mum's proud of her little girl...and, yes, I am missing her like crazy!

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Celia Fowler said...

My mother is still reading at 90, and it's such a blessing. She mostly reads romances (in large print), but I am trying to get her to try books like your Cait Morgan series. I did get her to re-read Rebecca, and she really enjoyed it.

Cathy Ace said...

It really is a wonderful boon for a person to be able to read into their later life, and large print books, plus the use of screens where the print can be enlarged, are so wonderful. I hope she's able to continue reading, and enjoying it, for many years to come, Celia and...if you manage to talk her into it (!) that she enjoys any of my books she reads :-)