I used to annoy my mother by telling everyone that I was born in the Graig workhouse and she was always quick to add that I was born on the maternity ward and as it was a few months before the introduction of the NHS she actually had to pay for her care – and mine. My father’s mother (who died when I was three) was Katherine (Kitty) Jones nee John who nursed in the Graig hospital during the late twenties, thirties and early forties) many of the stories in Hearts of Gold were related to me by my father when I asked him about her. Fascinated by the history of the workhouse and Pontypridd it seemed logical for me to draw on both when I was commissioned by an editor to write a book set in Wale sin the thirties because “If you don’t write about it now no one ever will.
My mother was born in Allenstein East Prussia in 1926. Like all East Prussians she lost everything she owned except the clothes she was wearing when the Russians invaded in January 1945. She considered herself fortunate to escape with her life. My father, Glyn Jones was a Welsh soldier serving in Germany when he met Gerda who had sought refuge there in 1946. They fell in love and married in Pontypridd in July 1947. I was born in and grew up in Pontypridd, but remained close to my Prussian grandmother who resettled in West Germany and I frequently spent holidays and as much of my free time with her as I could. I promised my mother that if it were ever possible for her to revisit her homeland, I would take her there.
We returned in 1984, and although I had no intention of writing about East Prussia at the time, after my mother gave me the diaries she and my grandmother had kept throughout the war I found myself drafting “One Last Summer”. A book that spent ten years in my “unpublished” drawer but which is now recommended reading by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It became a bestseller worldwide as well as the UK and resulted in invitations from the Polish Libraries to tour Poland (twice). A wonderful experience that resulted in me staying in my mother’s home town now renamed Olsztyn and and speaking in the town’s magnificent libraries.
Pontypridd and Olsztyn have both been kind to me. In 2003 Ty Catrin, an adult education centre in Pontypridd, was named for Catrin Collier and my name is inscribed on the Ponty Proud board along with those of Elaine Morgan – a writer who was my inspiration and role model throughout my schooldays and a woman I was proud to call friend in later life, Stuart Burrows, Tom Jones, and Beverley Humphreys among others.
Becoming a full time writer on working on a film set were the fulfilment of lifetime dreams. Now I now have the luxury of considering all the jobs I took before I became a full time writer as “research”. At the age of 14 I was as a Saturday girl and waitress in an Italian owned and run cafe in Pontypridd. I still try to call in Princes whenever I’m in Pontypridd, and wholeheartedly recommend their cakes and savouries. My warm hearted employers and co-workers became the templates for my characters in the Hearts of Gold series and I haven’t stopped drawing on life’s experiences for material for my books since.
I went to Maesycoed Primary, (where a wonderful teacher Mrs Absalom introduced my entire class to the Iliad. I lived for Friday afternoons when she’d read the “next episode.) I then moved to Pontypridd Girls’s Grammar school and from there trained as a teacher in Swansea College of Education, In 1968 went on on a student exchange to the USA which gave me all the background I needed to write “Bobby’s Girl”, a book that enabled me to revisit some characters from Hearts of Gold fifty years later and how it felt to protest – against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights. I’ve worked as a Drama and English teacher, social worker, management and business consultant, human resources director, waitress, barmaid, and a few positions I’d rather not mention, most resulted in new friends, new skills and at the very least background for a short story if not a book.
After the usual chequered attempts to write for publication which resulted in a few short stories surfacing in various magazines, but many many more rejections, I joined Swansea Writers’ Circle in 1977 – I’m still a member. There I found myself in the company of scores of like-minded people who dreamed of publication and learned a crucial lesson. In order to become published you have to write for markets. Obvious? Not to me at the time. I assumed I could sit in my attic (metaphorical I worked in a garage) and when I finished my masterpiece the world would beat a path to my door.
Thanks to the wonderful people in the circle, some of whom became close and lifelong friends, I found myself published by magazines such as Secret Photo Love (the stories not the graphic novel bits. I could never fit the words I wanted into the balloons . I was in good company Alexander Cordell confided he began his career writing for Red Star and Iris Gower was writing for Loving magazine at the time. I wandered into theatrical play writing for a while until one of my plays was banned the night before it went “on the road” but that’s another story.
Every month we had visiting speakers, including a Mills and Boon author who’d made a million from her books. Within twenty-four hours ninety per cent of the circle were attempting their first Mills and Boon. I wrote 17 – A Touch of Fire . . . A Touch of Class . . . they’re somewhere in my attic. I was working full time and had three children under five. The only time I could write was between midnight and four in the morning because my children objected to sleeping. One morning around three o’clock I faced the devastating truth. I couldn’t and never would be able to write romance. The following night, I disinfected my study of romance, sat before my typewriter (yes I’m that old) and created a tall handsome black haired, blue-eyed incredibly good-looking character (I based him on a favourite Hollywood actor) and “disappeared” him in the first chapter. When I brought in the police officers, including my detective, then Sergeant Trevor Joseph to investigate the vanishing some were short – some fat – some thin, all had character flaws.
It took me six months to finish what would become “Without Trace”. In May 1987 I found an agent prepared to look at Without Trace (I suspect only to get me off the line). In December 1987 he sent me a contract to sign up to the agency and invited me for lunch. In December 1988 he telephoned to tell me he’d sold the book to an editor at Random House who’d rejected it the year before. While “Without Trace” was being prepared for publication I was a Management Consultant interviewing long term unemployed clients with health problems who wanted to return to work. My editor telephoned me, interrupting one interview. She was furious because I’d killed Trevor Joseph in the last chapter. (He had a very touching deathbed scene). We had a heated argument, which ended with me saying. “If I can’t kill Trevor Joseph I’ll severely maim him”. I slammed the telephone down to see a white faced client staring at me.
Trevor Joseph lived. It was the first but not the last time an editor proved me wrong. I’m glad he survived. I’ve become fond of him and I’ve not long finished penning my ninth Trevor Joseph book, The Vanished. “Without Trace” was published by Century at Random House as a Katherine John medical chiller, the paperback rights were auctioned, and bought by Headline publishing who offered me a contract to write more crime novels. After publication my agent asked if I had completed any other novels and set them aside. I asked him how many would he like?
I sent him a novel I’d been working on for ten years set in the first world war in Mesopotamia, (modern Iraq) he forwarded it to my editor, who loved the plot and the characters but hated the setting and asked if I could move it to Wales in the 1930’s. Slight problem, no desert, no Arabs, no war, in 1930’s Wales. She offered me a contract to write a single novel set in Wales in the 1930’s. I was reluctant to take the commission. My father was born in Tonypandy in 1920 and remembered the 1926 strike only too well, and rarely spoke of the hardships he and our family had suffered in common with most Valley mining families of the time. I didn’t want to re-open old wounds but I told him about the project and we talked – really talked about what life was like for him in the Valleys and Pontypridd between the wars for the first time. The result was a research file that became Hearts of Gold.
Four hundred pages of plot, characterisations, historical facts, and old photographs. Hearts of Gold was only ever intended to be one book. My editor told me I had amassed enough material for a series of ten. She was right, I was wrong. Neither of us thought the series would become the success it was, or continue to depict life in Pontypridd from the 1930’s through the decade of the 1940’s to the 1950’s or lead to a BBC worldwide dramatisation in 2003.
I continued (and still continue) to produce at least one historical novel as Catrin Collier a year, my Katherine John crime books are intermittent because I’ve frequently been sidetracked on to other commissions. I’ve novelised TV series as Katherine Hardy, ghosted crime and novelised films as K A John, and after one publishing party with an editor who became a friend, accepted an offer to write “raunch” as Caro French. (that was the year I produced 5 books and could finally give up work to realise my ambition of becoming a full time writer) I’ve also written a few scripts, some based on my novels, some original, some of which have been filmed, and some that won’t.
I’m often asked which I prefer writing, historical fiction or crime, my answer – “the book or script I’m working on has to be my absolute favourite and deserves all the attention I can give it.” I try not to work on more than one project at a time, but deadlines frequently intrude and projects overlap. And although I am primarily considered to be a Welsh writer I don’t only, or always, look to Wales for inspiration.
If there’s any advice in this very short biography it’s never give up, never lose faith in yourself, keep your sense of humour and NEVER take professional criticism as personal. Always remember an editor’s professional reputation is linked to yours. Yes, they are human and occasionally they can be wrong but they only want the best for your work and if my experience is typical, their advice is always well meant and sincere. So, when you get your next rejection (and of course I still do) it could be that your work REALLY doesn’t fit the list – or the editor is about to change publishing houses.
Catrin Collier – Wikipedia- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catrin_Collier
Catrin Collier – IMDb – https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1397585/
Listen to Audiobooks written by Catrin Collier | Audible.co.uk-https://www.audible.co.uk/author/Catrin-Collier/B001HOYHWU
Catrin Collier – Calibre Audio Library – audiobooks for people with .. –https://www.calibre.org.uk/library.aspx?author=Catrin+Collier
Catrin Collier – Fantastic Fiction https://www.fantasticfiction.com/c/catrin-collier/
Catrin Collier Books and Book Reviews | LoveReading – https://www.lovereading.co.uk/author/66/Catrin-Collier.html
Books by Catrin Collier (Author of Hearts of Gold) – Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/38502.Catrin_Collier
Catrin Collier books and biography | Waterstones-https://www.waterstones.com/author/catrin-collier/42979
catrin collier (@catrincollier) | Twitter – https://twitter.com/catrincollier
Catrin Collier – Home | Facebook – https://www.facebook.com › Pages › Public Figure › Author
Catrin Collier – Writer – Catrin Collier – author | LinkedIn – https://uk.linkedin.com/in/catrin-collier-a28ba536
drama pack – BBC – www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2003/06_june/18/hearts_gold.pdf