Cate began her career training as a teacher and then went into journalism. Her first book, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, was published with Faber and Faber after she won a writing competition with Stylist magazine. The Jade Boy is her first book for children and incorporates all of the glamorous and gruesome facts that Cate loves about the 17th Century, one of her favourite times in history.
How much of your own personality comes out in your characters? Is there one in your latest book that you relate to?
In the Jade Boy I think I’m probably an amalgam of all three lead characters. I’m definitely impetuous like Jem and like him I have a tendency to leap before looking. Tolly is quietly mischievous, with a nice line in playful sarcasm and Ann is a bossy know–all. (Everyone who knows me will recognise that!) Rather worryingly, I think that Count Cazalon is an expression of my inner theatrical villain. He’s the Cruella DeVil of the 17th century. In my book for adults, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, I think I’m probably quite like Kitty herself, who, like Jem is impetuous and driven by a keen sense of justice. Friends, on the other hand, might say I’m more like Lady Ginger, the villainess!
Have you always enjoyed writing or was it something you developed later on in life?
I worked as a journalist for many years before becoming a press officer, so I have always written, in some form, for a living. At school I loved creative writing sessions and studying the classics (I did English at university), but I didn’t think seriously about writing until a couple of years ago. I think I suddenly woke up one morning and felt ‘cheated’ at having to write to order on topics that weren’t necessarily fascinating to me. (I’m lucky that I work for a heritage charity dealing with amazing old buildings, but you’d be surprised at how much technical information that involves). I suspect writing fiction gave me a sense of creative freedom that I don’t always have at work.
What inspired you to write ‘The Jade Boy’?
The 17th century has always fascinated me because of the way it must have looked. In the 1660s after the Restoration, wealthy men and women were gorgeously and elaborately dressed, but under all that finery there was an element of decadence, dirt, decay and corruption that is wonderfully gothic. I think I always knew that someday I would want play with that idea. I work in an old building in the East End of London. Three years ago on a very snowy day in January my boss allowed everyone to go home early. But I found out that my trains north to St Albans were cancelled. I sat at my desk alone in the building until the blizzard outside stopped enough to enable me to try to get home. I started day dreaming about the bones of the story then; the idea of boy who worked as a servant in a great old house in London during the seventeenth century wandered into my head and I started to write it down. All I knew at that point was that he was called Jem and that he was threatened by a very sinister man. It wasn't until I managed to catch a bus later on that evening and it passed St Paul's Cathedral in the snow that I started to think about the old cathedral that had stood on that spot before the Great Fire of London. I wondered what really happened to cause the fire and I knew, instantly, that Jem and Count Cazalon held the key. By the time I got home that night I had the whole story plotted out in my head. I must add that, because of the snow, my train was very, very delayed so I had a lot of thinking time!
What was your favourite book as a child?
Easy! The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I had the good fortune to meet her at an event recently and I was completely star struck and tongue tied. It’s not often that you get to meet your heroine, and I did! I think I managed to stammer out something about hoping that young readers would find The Jade Boy as genuinely terrifying and thrilling as I found The Dark is Rising at the age of 9. I read it in one night with a torch under the bedcovers because I couldn’t bear to go to sleep without knowing what happened in the end. And I was too terrified to sleep.
What advice would you give to a young author?
Be yourself and have fun. I don’t think it’s necessary to write what you know (I might be a heretic in saying that?), but I do think it’s important to write what you enjoy. Don’t hold back, give yourself permission to explore strange ideas, emotions or situations. Be bold, be brave and don’t worry about what others might think. It’s your world, your creation. Go for it. I also think it’s impossible to underrate the importance of reading anything and everything, even the back of cereal boxes. Writing every day is important too. It’s like a muscle, if you don’t exercise you get flabby and it can become difficult and daunting to get ‘back into shape’.
What is the one thing that’s most important when you’re writing?
Being warm and comfortable and knowing that I’m just yards from the fridge for those moments when only cheese will do. I like to think of particularly knotty plot issues as cheddar moments. Also, never sit and look at a blank page. Write something – even if it’s just a shopping list or a description of the view from your window. To return to the exercise analogy, it will warm you up.
Do you find it easy to write for both an adult and children’s audience?
To be honest, I don’t necessarily think of them as separate. Obviously they are, but a story is story no matter who it’s for. The themes in Kitty Peck are more adult, but actually aspects of The Jade Boy are more complex and demanding of the reader. In the Jade Boy I’ve been careful with language, but not to the point where I won’t use a word because it’s difficult. For example I was delighted to get ‘obsidian’ in when describing Count Cazalon’s eyes. I think children deserve to be treated with respect as readers - and that means challenging them?.
Do you have any hobbies that don’t involve reading or writing?
I love going to the theatre and cinema and also I am a huge fan of London's museum's and art galleries. I used to work at Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, which is a magical, fascinating place. I' m a big fan of Stately Homes (and their tea-rooms) and, on a more prosaic note, I love buying shoes!
What are your plans/hopes for the future in your career?
I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write sequels to both The Jade Boy and to Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders so I hope they will be as well received. It feels like a big responsibility to readers, many of whom, rather fantastically, feel as if they own or know the characters. I just hope that inspiration continues to strike and that I manage to do Jem, Tolly, Ann, Count Cazalon, Kitty and Lady Ginger full justice.
Visit Templar Books for more information on ‘The Jade Boy’.