She is quite definitely a cat, from her gleaming eyes and her glossy black hair to the soles of her white paws. Well, trainers actually, a fashion statement she clearly adores and wears all the time. She even had them on at Crimescene 2002 when she interviewed Steven Saylor who was elegance personified in an amazing designer suit. So when she tells you she is a Leo (the Lion to the uninitiated) it comes as no surprise, and one always suspects that though she keeps them retracted, her claws could come out in self defence at any time.
Fidelis Morgan might be considered a Johnny-come-lately with only four crime novels to speak of but actually she and publishing go back a long, long way. Originally trained as an actress, she understudied Glenda Jackson for a world tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Hedda Gabler. This was followed by ten years with the big reps and the touring companies. Her great love, so she says, is Jacobean Theatre because of the complicated writing and big casts, which are 'much more fun to do.' Her cat's eyes gleam as she talks about it and one can't help but wonder if she misses the cut and thrust of the theatre.
But back to the very beginning. She is the only person I know who had been expelled from four different schools. She was even asked to leave kindergarten, no mean feat I'm sure you'll agree. I asked her if it was for clouting another child. 'Certainly not,' she replies vigorously. 'I've never hit anyone in my life.' Transpires she led a student revolt, albeit youthful, against the afternoon rest and was marched home with the message that she was too young for school. She has always written - like myself - and had completed her first play by the time she was six. Incidentally she designed the sets, wrote the music and played both the leading parts when the play was produced under her own direction. But now, according to her, the theatre has changed out of all recognition and nothing in the universe would tempt her in if she were starting out afresh.
The cat shows her claws. 'Ican't bear the theatre any more. I think theatres should be closed down and you should go to prison if you act, write, direct or attend a play. I was lured back in Janaury 2003 by Philip Prowse - who I adore. He was directing a boudoir production of Collete's own adaptation of CHERIE. It was wonderful but it was a one off.' We turn to writing. It appears that she became a published author by mistake. She was sitting in the dressing room at Glasgow Citizens Theatre on a freezing cold day playing mind games to try and take her attention away from the temperature. She had mentally done the works of Shakespeare and was currently listing the Restoration Plays when it occurred to her that many of the writers were women. In view of the argument that there were no female writers before Jane Austen, she decided to redress the balance and wrote a book, which became a great success. Other publishers came along and suggested biographies ad so she kept writing similar books which, she says, she went into with no sense of vocation, more a sense of duty.
The Leo shows. 'It's no good sitting around when people say somebody ought to write about them. There's only one way. Get on and do it yourself.'
So how did she end up writing crime, I ask. It seems she always had; short stories, plays and so on. Indeed she wrote many of her earlier books in dressing rooms and during her free periods with the various rep companies. Then came the demise of the theatre she loved and a complete change in her timetable. It was following that event that the first book of her present series, UNNATURAL FIRE, was conceived, presented to an agent, who in turn contacted Harper Collins. The rest is history, as the saying goes.
For those who haven't read them as yet, to anyone who loves tales of the past written with one eye open and the other one closed, I would suggest that they do so straight away. The two heroines are Countess Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche, a sadly raddled old girl yet who possesses a certain dignity, and her faithful large-breasted maid Alpiew. I asked Fidelis about the Countess.
'Historically she's based on the Countess of Castlemaine who did, indeed, age badly. One of the women I wrote about before I turned to crime was Delariviere Manley, who wrote a scandal sheet funnily enough. This, of course, is something I gave the Countess for an occupation. Anyway, when Mrs. Manley was 16 she married her cousin, who was already married, and had a child by him at the same time as his wife was having a baby. She ran away and was taken in by Lady Castlemaine. Similarly the Duchess of Mazarin, who I used hook, line and sinker for the Duchesse de Pigalle in THE AMBITIOUS STEPMOTHER. My editor though she was over-done but in fact I watered her down. The real Mazarin had an affair with Charles II, Louis XIV and Queen Christina! However, the Countess is a mixture of Lady Castlemaine, my mothers and me. The naivety of my mother, the canniness of myself and the raddled on being which Castlemaine became.'
In common with most writers she bases her characters on several people. Alpiew, the big hearted, big chested, faithful servant is every maid who has ever appeared in Restoration comedy, plus a friend of Fidelis's, plus, again, a bit of the author.
What strike one about this particular writer is the enormous confidence that positively oozes from her. She is utterly self-possessed, completely sure of her history and also of herself. If determination and setting of sights high are anything to go by, Fidelis Morgan is most certainly going to be a best seller.
I asked her about the future. 'I can't see the future,' she replies sassily. 'Can you?'
My second attempts asks her about the future of the series. How she envisages it going.
'I reckon I can go on a s long as people are interested in reading the books. However writing a series does have its limitations. You can't do anything too dramatic or you'll get lumbered with it. For example if you blow the legs off someone at the end of a book they'll be confined to a wheelchair for evermore.'
Her boredom threshold is exceptionally low, hence her wanting to be an actress, musician, painter, writer, all at the same time. She is currently writing two things at once, otherwise boredom will set in and she'll be finished. However, she is reluctant to talk about the new work as it's not yet properly formulated in her head. Meanwhile, she's writing short stories and anything else that will keep her busy.
She has a famous cousin, namely Linda La Plante, whose success on television is legendary and with whom Fidelis has occasionally worked. But she clearly doesn't want to talk about her and switches the subject to her favourite authors. She likes Patricia Highsmith, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, John Buchan, Richmal Crompton, Charles Dickens. 'In short I like good yarns, I like a bloody good story. Dumas, Zola, all of them. Yet who was it who got knighted? Walter Scott , who wrote these ghastly, hither and yon, ridiculous historical crap -' She's not aware of it but at this moment the cat has arched its back and is preparing to spit. '- and who reads him now, may I ask? Nobody. Yet he was considered the great literally genius, he and Bulwer-Lytton. And who the hell has even heard of him? His name is used as a joke nowadays: who can write the worst sentence in literature?'
She's cagey about her private life, refuses to say a great deal and won't be drawn, so, reluctantly, I leave the topic and go on to her working methods. She like to write amongst colour and noise. Her favourite room to work in is lime green, scarlet, black and gold. She goes there, has music blasting, she creates. She likes her brain constantly on the go. And not only her brain either.
Fidelis Morgan is a powerful bundle of energy with extreme opinions which she is not afraid to voice. She will go far in her chosen field, whatever she decides that field will be. Meanwhile, she is a cat that does not sleep, a cat that's on the prowl. To any who don't like her I would give you these words of warning. Watch out.
Fidelis's latest novel is Fortune's Slave
Haper Collins £17.99 hbk
Interview February 2004