Thirteen interesting things about me
- Before I became a writer, I worked for many years as a musician. With a band called Gentle Annie,
I went up to Alaska for 6 weeks and toured all around, playing in log cabins and bars and festivals. I saw grizzly bears and ate moose burgers. We arrived on the longest day, when the sun never went down at all. When we left in late August, winter had arrived. It was fabulous, but I don’t like the cold much, so I’m not hanging out to be an eskimo. After that I worked in pub bands, on TV and as a session musician in recording studios for years. My biggest gig was co-writing and performing a segment of music for the Auckland Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in 1990. I also played medieval and renaissance folk music in The Troubadours and Digorie, on instruments made by me and my friends. Some of the best fun I’ve had as a musician has been with singer-songwriter Al Hunter and playing swing jazz with the 1932 Jazz Orchestra.
- I play country, blues and jazz fiddle, though right now I’m pretty rusty because my fingers are doing far more typing than playing. Once upon a time I was Australian Bluegrass Fiddle Champion. I won a bronze model of a Volvo truck. (Volvo were the sponsors) and it sat on top of the TV for years, till we bought a flat screen.
- I’m also a luthier – that’s a violin maker and restorer – under my maiden name, Cath Newhook. My workshop is always a busy (read, messy), interesting place full of strange sights and smells, with instruments everywhere undergoing anything from a quick clean to open heart surgery.
- Violins are wonderful things. They make a glorious sound (mostly) and their shape is a combination of beauty and practicality. My violin and I have been close mates for years – it can tell its own kind of stories but there are no words and no plot. I do love a good plot and words have me totally hooked. That’s why I’m now a writer.
- I love being out in the bush. When I was younger I thought tracks were for sissies; exploring the mountains by following rivers and ridges was the only way to go. Now I’m a bit more mellow. (Read, sensible? Or just lazy?)
- I climbed cliffs and mountains until I decided I didn’t like the feeling of being about to die. I think if you open your eyes and ears, you can feel alive every moment of every day without wondering if you are going to be raspberry jam in a few minutes time. But seeing a mountain in the distance still makes my heart beat a little faster.
- Years ago I had a beautiful dark marmalade cat called Goldwater who was very talkative, very social and plain down-right sensible. I thought it was because I was such a well-adjusted, sensible person myself. After he died, I was adopted by another beautiful dark marmalade cat, Nikos who was such a nervous nitwit, I realized it was nothing to do with me at all. I hope!
- I’m a gardener and have been for years and years. But I’m always amazed when a seed comes up and even more amazed when it grows into a fine plant. Don’t get me wrong – I’m good at killing plants too! It’s not always my fault. Up at our bach, we’ve planted about 3500 plants. And sometimes they die because they really don’t like the place I’ve put them. Or there’s a drought. Or a flood. Or I stand on them (by accident). Or a stray cow eats them. Or they just die. Stuff happens.
- I love the sea. I love looking at it, and seeing how it changes as the light shifts. I love the smell of it and the strength of it and the wildness of it and the endurance of it. And I love being out in a boat on it, even when the fish aren’t biting. My brothers and I grew up mucking about in boats and I spent many hours sailing my little yacht and dreaming I was Odysseus.
- I’ve always loved horses, but we grew up in the city, so owning one wasn’t an option. My uncle was a harness racing trainer and driver, and we’d go out to his farm and have an occasional ride, though the horses weren’t really trained for that and there were no saddles. That’s because harness racing horses have a little buggy out the back called a sulky, where the driver sits – it’s the closest thing these days to chariot racing. More recently, my husband has owned race horses and we’ve had lots of fun following them, especially when they’ve won. This is a picture of me with Gareth Hughes, our trainer’s son, and a fabulous horse called Isagoodlooking. And he was, bless him. When I launched my first book, Murder at Mykenai, I celebrated by sponsoring a harness race at Auckland’s Alexandra Park. The book had a couple of chariot scenes in it, so it seemed like a good idea! We called the race The Bronze Age Stakes Handicap Trot.
- When I was seven or eight, I discovered Barbara Leonie Picard’s retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, and my inner world changed forever. Dressed in towels I became Odysseus confounding the suitors, or Penelope as she unravelled Laertes’ shroud at midnight, while my family hammered on the bathroom door. Much later, years after I had finished my History degree, I went back to Uni for three years to learn Ancient Greek, and especially Homeric Greek, so I could understand Homer’s poems better. I also spent years and years reading everything I could on the archaeology of the Late Bronze Age – that’s the period in which the Trojan War is believed to have been fought.
- I was born in a Catholic maternity hospital in Auckland, in the same room as another baby girl called Penelope. The nuns looked down their noses at her. “She’ll be called Penny,” they said. “How common.” Or did they disapprove because she was named after a famous pagan woman? When Mum told me the story later, I was so jealous of that baby. I’d have given anything to be called after Odysseus’s wife.
The nuns were very pleased Mum was calling me Catherine – a good saint’s name, they said, though Mum was Presbyterian if she was anything. “But,” they added,” St Catherine was a very strong-minded woman. You be careful, now. She’ll have a will of her own, this one.”
In an old church in the Mani, a wild part of Southern Greece, Mum and I came across an old church in a little village – this is the village priest standing outside. Inside the church there is a picture of St Catherine, looking suitably formidable. The walls had been whitewashed and the villagers wanted to remove the paint and see what was underneath. A few small patches had been cleaned off and here she is! Scroll back up and see if you spot any similarities…
- I’ve been to Greece four times so far, and I’m always amazed at the layers. So much has happened there and you can find traces everywhere you go. Not just Bronze Age and Classical Greek remains; the Romans and the Byzantines and the Normans and the Venetians and the Turks and the British and the Germans and the Americans have all been there too and sometimes they leave a smear and sometimes they leave much more. But always the Greeks continue – uniquely Greek but at the same time an incredible mix of East and West, old and new. The ancient sites are protected now, but for thousands of years people used them as quarries for building material. So later buildings often have bits of earlier buildings in them. Sometimes this looks fine, but sometimes the result is very strange!