Cath Staincliffe is a best-selling, award-winning novelist, radio playwright and the creator of ITV’s hit series, Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. Cath’s books have been short-listed for the British Crime Writers Association best first novel award, for the Dagger in the Library and selected as Le Masque de l’Année. In 2012 Cath won the CWA Short Story Dagger for Laptop, sharing the prize with Margaret Murphy with her story The Message. Cath was shortlisted again with Night Nurse in 2014. Cath’s Sal Kilkenny private eye series features a single-parent sleuth working the mean streets of Manchester. Trio, a stand-alone novel moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s, inspired by Cath’s own experience. Letters To My Daughter’s Killer was selected for Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club in 2014 and featured on ITV3s Crime Thriller Club. Cath also writes the Scott & Bailey novels based on the popular UK TV series. Cath’s latest stand alone book, The Silence Between Breaths explores what happens when ordinary people are caught up in a terrifying and extraordinary event. Cath is one of the founding members of Murder Squad – a group of Northern crime writers who give readings, talks and signings around the country. Cath was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, UK and now lives in Manchester, Lancashire with her family. You can follow her on Twitter, @CathStaincliffe, which she does when she should be busy writing!
Hi Cath and thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions. Firstly I would like to congratulate you on a phenomenal career to date. To those readers who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your books can you please tell us about yourself?
Thanks Tracy and thanks for inviting me. My first series featured Sal Kilkenny, a private eye working cases down the mean streets of Manchester and struggling to be a good enough mother to her young daughter. Blue Murder followed, a police detective this time. Since then I’ve chosen to look at crime from the point of view of victims, suspects or bereaved families and examine things that frighten me, or make me think, ‘what would I do, how would I cope?’ I also write short stories which is very freeing as I can go anywhere and try anything which you can’t do in a novel. And I write radio drama.
I admit to having only read 2 of your books to-date (slaps myself on head) but both of them were OUTSTANDING in my opinion. Letters to My Daughter’s Killer and The Silence Between Breaths – both standalone books which were incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. Can you tell us more about these 2 books and the inspiration behind them?
Thank you, that’s very kind. Letters To My Daughter’s Killer came from thinking about what happens to bereaved relatives during the police investigation and the trial but also after the killer is convicted. What if that doesn’t bring any resolution, what if you are still devastated, angry, bitter? What sort of life are you left with? In the book the central character is stuck in her grief and so she writes to the guilty man hoping to find some answers, some understanding if not forgiveness. Personally I’ve always found forgiveness a difficult concept even though I was raised a Catholic. Writing a book in letter form appealed to me and as letters are a main way to communicate with prisoners it worked perfectly for this story.
The Silence Between Breaths was a way to explore what it might be like to be caught up in a terrorist attack, to consider how people behave in such extreme circumstances and also an attempt to capture what people’s lives are like in the UK now. Character is always the foundation for my stories but in this case it was a real challenge to capture nine different points of view. I’ve been so thrilled by the positive response to the book.
As well as a successful novelist you are the scriptwriter for Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin and 3 Scott & Bailey books were based on the TV police series. As an author this must be a dream come true watching your books being brought to life for millions of viewers, but can you tell me any funny stories relating to the TV series?
I was so very lucky to see my work on TV, and there was a real kick when the credits rolled and my name was there at the start of each episode. And boy, did it help the family finances!
One memorable incident, funnier in hindsight, came when I was writing the pilot two-parter for Blue Murder and we learned that Caroline Quentin was pregnant, but still willing to go ahead if the role could allow for that. I had ONE WEEK to rewrite both episodes, adding in morning sickness, heartburn and a craving for pineapples. And re-working the storyline for her split from her husband.
Another ‘moment’ came when I was watching the rough cut of an episode and one of the actors had chosen to improvise a bit in the final scene, once the murder had been solved. ‘Be good to find the murder weapon,’ he said. I nearly had a heart attack. The victim, we all knew by then, had been strangled. Much time was spent coming up with alternative words to be dubbed on top of the mistake.
In your early years you wanted to be an entomologist can you please tell me your favourite insect and why?
Has to be the ladybird. Not just because they look amazing but because they eat greenfly (though never nearly enough).
It’s a well known fact that you love dancing, what’s your favourite song to dance to and would you like to appear on Strictly?
Just one? How can I choose just one? My top ten in no particular order
Twist and Shout – Chaka Demus and Pliers
I’ll Take You There – Staples Singers
Hippy Hippy Shake – The Swinging Blue Jeans
You Don’t Love Me – Dawn Penn
I’m in the Mood for Love – Lord Tanamo
Loaded – Primal Scream
Boom Shack-A-Lack – Apache Indian
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley and the Wailers
White Man at Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
I would rather stick pins in my eyes than appear on Strictly. (Then again maybe it’s like Twitter – which I had to be dragged to kicking and screaming, but now I’m an addict.)
Do you have a new book coming out this year? If so, what can you tell us about it?
The Girl in the Green Dress is about a hate crime where a transgender girl is beaten to death on the night of her sixth form prom. The cover copy asks: How far would you go to protect your child? Can you really keep them safe? What if who they are puts them at risk? And what if they have blood on their hands?
You are a huge reader and supporter of other authors, what books should we be looking out for in 2017 and what books did you love in 2016?
There are SO many talented writers out there, and so many amazing books. I’ve not room to include everything I loved in 2016 but here’s some of them:
The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood
Plainsong Trilogy by Kent Haruf
Dodgers by Bill Beverly
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Redemption Road by John Hart
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Streets of Darkness by AA Dhand
The Panoptican by Jenni Fagan
And for 2017 I’d highly recommend, or am really looking forward to reading:
Sirens by Joseph Knox
Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Calling Major Tom by David Barnett
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Intrusions by Stav Sherez
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
You are a founder member of Murder Squad – a virtual collective of northern crime writers. Can you explain more please?
Yes, we banded together in 2000, at the instigation of the wonderful Margaret Murphy because while we were all getting good reviews and recognition for our books there was very little happening by way of promotion. Our aim was to publicise our work and crime fiction in general and we set up a website, produced a brochure and began to take on bookings with literary festivals and libraries and bookshops. It was great being able to pool our skills and share the work and cost of doing all this and support each other. Since then we’ve published several short story anthologies and the group is still thriving. More on our website www.murdersquad.co.uk
What 3 super-powers would you want and why?
Not sure if it’s a superpower but I would like to be able to fix all IT snafus and problems, software and hardware, just by clicking my fingers, or twitching my nose like Samantha in Bewitched (for those older readers). I would save SO much time (that I now spend faffing about and swearing at the computer) that I could probably write another book a year.
Superpower 2 is being able to fly like I do in my dreams – a combination of pedalling and swimming. Simply because it’d be great fun and make a change from walking every day.
My 3rd power would be a zapper stare that I could use on people who do things that are bad, mad or dangerous to others. So I’d zap people using their mobiles when they drive, or those who undertake really fast on the motorway, people being abusive to others, bullies and haters. The zap would implant a tiny germ of kindness/responsibility and they’d behave better. Perhaps I could fly to various world capitals by means of my 2nd power and use this zapper stare on nefarious prime ministers and presidents.
Finally, what plans have you got for 2017 and will you be a Harrogate Crime Festival in July?
I’m writing two episodes of the Stone detective drama for BBC Radio 4 and I’ll be starting a new novel, though I’ve no idea yet what that will be. Yes, I’ll definitely be at Harrogate, can’t wait, and I look forward to seeing lots of old friends and meeting new ones there.