You might wonder why I’ve developed an alter ego – and why I’ve decided to moonlight as the author Cathryn Ramsay, at least for the duration of my new novella, Upon the Solstice.
You could describe Solstice as a dark, Gothic fairytale, and that’s not exactly what people might expect when they pick up one of my books. ‘Gothic’ it is something I read and something I also write, although I write it on a far less commercial basis than I do with my Choc Lit novels and it rarely sees the light of day. I love my Choc Lit work, and I love writing romances with a hint of the paranormal in. I love timeslips and ghost stories, and my Choc Lit books encompass all that and more. I’ve done a couple of contemporary romances as well, which are quite nice and I hope they get published too and I’ve also done quite a few funny short stories for places like The Weekly News – but in the back of my imagination is a little niche I keep specifically for Gothic; and the door to that niche opened quite widely one day, and Solstice spilled out.
Solstice was originally going to be my Masters dissertation, but I decided to use the professional feedback on the MA a little more strategically and instead presented the first 7,000 words or so of a new Choc Lit novel – the third in my Hartsford series to be precise. So after that got the thumbs up from my tutors (thank goodness!) I decided to have a play around with Solstice and see what happened with it.
Solstice was, in fact, very, very easy to write and Charles, Ceit and Isabella just tumbled out onto the page, within about three months. I wondered if it was worth doing anything with them, and whether anybody would actually read the story if I did. I sent it to a couple of friends who I can rely on to give me constructive feedback (i.e. they’ll tell me straight if it’s rubbish!) and they all said it was horribly dark, quite scary and they couldn’t put it down. All ticks in my boxes, then.
The logical thing was to self-publish Solstice through Rosethorn Press, which is what I have done with my other niche stories – Refuge and Memory of Snow, together with a non-fiction ghost book and a collection of short stories. But I didn’t want to use my own name. What if, I reasoned, a reader chose that book on the basis of it being similar to one of my Choc Lit books? The thought was awful – there isn’t a shred of romance in Solstice, and it’s all told from Charles’ point of view. Charles is a bit of a Romantic character, in that he yearns to be like Byron or Keats or Shelley; and indeed he’s from the correct era, being a wealthy Victorian gent, living in the atmospheric house he inherited from his Scottish Uncle – but no way is he romantic in a traditional romantic way. Not at all. So if a person who had enjoyed the proper romance of one of my Rossetti Mysteries novels chose Solstice and realised it wasn’t at all similar, that could be very, very detrimental to both me and my publishers; we could both get the backlash, get rubbish reviews and lose future sales and it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. I discussed it with Choc Lit and we decided the best thing was for me to use a pen name. Hurrah! A win-win. After all, if Victoria Holt and Susanna Kearsley can write under pen names for different genres, why shouldn’t I?
Then, however, I had to choose a pen name, which is more difficult than you might think. I didn’t want something outrageous, and I wanted something that was classic, but still had a personal link to me. Ramsay is my Grandma’s maiden name, and she died when I was sixteen, but I know she would have been (and most probably is) immensely proud of me, so I wanted to use that as a link to her. And I’ve always liked the name Catherine – I think it stems from my love of Wuthering Heights. So what could be more perfect for my inner Goth? However, I wanted an uncommon spelling, to try to ensure that ‘I’ was as unique as I could be. So I settled for Cathryn.
Which is why Cathryn Ramsay is emblazoned on the cover of Upon the Solstice. It’s me, chaps! It really is! And that little tale above, is why I did it. Cathryn might come out again if I do something else quite dark – you never know. But for now, if you fancy something a bit different and a bit scary…here’s the link 😉