Wednesday, November 9, 2022

M is for Memories... by Cathy Ace

Have you met your literary hero/Author at a conference, or at an event? What was that experience like, or have you maintained your Author crush from afar?

When I began this crazy writing life, I decided to throw myself into the business and attended as many conventions as I could. This means I have met many writers whose work I had admired for years, and have also met many writers whose work I had never encountered until after I’d met them, but – when I read what they wrote – I adored their writing too.

The difficult thing is to name all those I’ve met whose work I love…because I’m bound to leave someone out, and then both I and they would be mortified. So I’m going to play a bit safe and mention an author whose work was known to me for decades before I got to meet her, and who has now – sadly, and too soon – left us.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books were like catnip to a girl who grew up reading Nancy Drew: the PI’s pluckiness matched Nancy’s, but it was overlaid with a professionalism much more suited to the 1980s, when power shoulder pads, big hair, and breaking glass ceilings was what all we young career women were about.

LOOK at those shoulder pads!!!

I was working in London through the 1980s and 1990s, setting up my own business in 1989 and selling it ten years later when I’d grown it to be the biggest of its type in Europe. I lived in the world of Filofaxes, breakfast at the Savoy, lunch at Claridges, tea at the Ritz, and dinner at the Criterion. The National Theatre would be fitted in on a quiet Wednesday evening, and the National Gallery would be somewhere I popped into to gaze at a few of my favourite works between meetings. I drank enough G&Ts to fill the Thames, drove a natty white Mazda MX5, and belonged to private clubs where the paparazzi lurked, hoping to find someone with a title teetering out in the wee hours, looking more than a little disheveled. And through all this it was Ms. Grafton’s books that were my go-to read on the endless flights, and layovers in airports. "ludicrously expensive handbag" phase
(they're all plant pot holders now, FYI)

Kinsey Millhone taught me to use the loo when I could (because who knew when you might get another chance), to eat when I could (ditto), to always have access to a Little Black Dress (though, in my case, it was a bouncy black pant suit) that could take one anywhere. She taught me that planning is necessary, but the ability to act when faced with the unexpected was critical. She taught me that a woman can be a true professional, but also needs to be able to accept help when she needs it, and to lend a hand when possible.

I had learned such lessons throughout my life – yes, it’s the sort of parenting I had – but having “lessons” backed up by a character I enjoyed spending time with meant a great deal.

In November 2013 I attended Bouchercon in Albany. It was the first convention I ever attended. Sue Grafton was the guest of honor, and I stood in line to meet her. Actually, I joined the line late…and ended up being the last person she met (I had to hold a sign telling others I was the end of the line!). A couple of months earlier, Margaret Canon at The Globe and Mail had reviewed my second Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Golden Nose, as “…a murder with touches of Christie or Marsh but with a bouquet of Kinsey Millhone.” At the time, I’d been floating on a cloud…and, with a heart thumping, I blurted out the quote to Ms. Grafton herself when I met her. 

Noting I was her last signing of the day, she relaxed onto a high stool – she’d been standing for hours – and smiled. She asked me about my writing, my characters, what I hoped for…and was so gracious in her encouragement. “You’re just beginning to understand how much work it all is…” she began, then talked to me as though I were a human being worthy of her attention for some time…with me probably grinning like an idiot every moment.


I took her wisdom with me, and continued to read her work with delight and awe. Her death was a blow to many, not least her readers, but moreso to her family, of course. As Toastmaster at Left Coast crime in Vancouver in 2019 I had been due to be honoring Sue Grafton as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award – instead, I had the sad, but great, honor of working with her daughter, Jamie Clarke, to prepare and host a memorial event which took place during the convention, in Jamie’s presence.

The honor I'd never have chosen...preparing Sue Grafton's
memorial, with her daughter

I wish I’d had another chance to talk to Sue Grafton about how my writing had changed, and how my writing had changed me, in the intervening six years, but – as it was – having a chance to share my love of her work with others, was the best I could do.

If you'd like to find out more about my work, you can do so at my website:


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