Cath Staincliffe - Author photo © Paul Herrmann

© Paul Herrmann

Hello, you’ve reached the official website of Manchester based, crime writer Cath Staincliffe. I’m the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye stories and creator and scriptwriter of Blue Murder, ITV’s hit detective drama starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis. I write the Scott & Bailey books, based on the much loved ITV1 police series. My standalone titles, psychological fiction exploring topical moral dilemmas, have been very popular on the Amazon Kindle. Thank you to everyone who has borrowed, bought or downloaded one of my books. Here on the site you can find out about me and my writing, read my blog and flash fiction, sample extracts from my work, watch interviews and readings and find links to buy my latest books.

Happy reading.

Recent Posts

Gut Instinct

 

It’s no secret that the question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most commonly asked of writers. And I’d say it’s one of the hardest to answer. My fall-back position is to joke about a stall I know on the market that does two for one and I’ve blogged before about not wanting to analyse the writing process too much as for me it’s about letting go and acting instinctively rather than anything more consciously structured. I do sometimes try and address it more seriously when talking to readers by illustrating how ideas for different books came from a visual image, or from a situation that troubles me. Recently I’ve been developing ideas for my next book and also for radio. This involved quite a lot of time staring at blank sheets of paper, gazing into space, writing list of possible ‘topics’ or situations and seeing if any of these might be ripe for development. Each time I came back to the suggestions I was very much aware of my gut responses: which ones left me feeling a bit flat, or cornered as though I was being tugged reluctantly in that direction; which ones kicked at my pulse yet made me feel slightly sick and overwhelmed and not sure if I was capable of writing them? That latter feeling with its mix of thrill and anxiety is as good a measure as anything for selecting an idea to run with. I imagine it’s a bit like hang-gliding or parachute jumping (which I have never done and never ever intend to), stepping off the edge and hoping to land safely several hundred feet/pages later. Without throwing up.

 

Pick Up A Book

March 3rd is World Book Day. Here are some novels I can recommend if you’re looking for something good to read.

Girl at War by Sarah Kovic

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

The Green Road by Anne Enright

Eventide (Plainsong Trilogy) by Kent Haruf

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

 

 

‘Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.’ – Ray Bradbury

February 6th is National Libraries Day, a time to celebrate the service as well as a call for action to protect libraries at a time when so many are being closed or their resources slashed. I love this quote from Isaac Asimov, ‘Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you – and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.’

Writers are born in libraries. I certainly was. For me a love of reading goes hand-in-hand with the desire to write. I grew up in a house where we all went to the public library and returned home with piles of books to devour before next month’s visit. Beginning in the children’s section, I graduated to adult fiction, reading my way round the shelves, trying anything that captured my interest. The pleasure and excitement of stories, being in other worlds, seeing things through the eyes of different characters and sharing their emotions is what I get from reading and what I’m hoping to create when I write.

Libraries are one of the few free, public, local, cultural spaces that we all share. True community venues. As Lady Bird Johnson put it, ‘Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.’ For that reason alone they are precious, they bind us together. They enable any of us to become readers, perhaps to become writers. Beyond books they offer advice and information, internet access, meeting spaces, research opportunities, newspapers, bus timetables, talks and lectures, exhibitions and publicity for local events. They host community groups and councillors surgeries, homework clubs and storytelling sessions. Free to use, accessible and open to all ages they really are invaluable and if they didn’t exist we’d have to invent them. To see them under sustained attack is heart-breaking. My local library is still open (pictured here) and I’ve never lost the habit of borrowing books. I can only hope that the same provision will be there for my children and for theirs. As Neil Armstrong said, ‘How we use the knowledge we gain determines our progress on earth, in space or on the moon. Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.’

If you’ve not got your library card yet, please sign up, browse those shelves and borrow a book or few and show your support.

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Voracious

She read her way around the library, hungry for journeys, adventures, laughter and passion. She took each new book to bed like a lover, savouring every chapter, going too far some nights until the letters danced like insects and she was groggy next day at work. But still she’d sneak away for lunchtime trysts, her eager fingers fumbling for the bookmark. In between times, in the worst of times and all alone, she would graze on safety notices, cereal packets, logos, the small print on tickets. In museums and galleries she read the plaques, barely glancing at the exhibits. When she died she had never travelled more than thirty miles from the small town of her birth. But between the covers she’d been all round the globe: a queen, a mother, a spy, a murderer, a general, a slave, an alien. She died just before the last chapter.

*Originally published by www.the-phone-book.com (now archived)

Something Else To Read?

Big thanks to libraries everywhere. Like lots of people I’d never be able to read the number of books I do without libraries making it possible. And that was even more true growing up, when the only time we ever got bought books was for birthdays or Christmas. So here’s some I’ve loved recently (not exclusively via the library) and I hope you’ll find something you like there.

Used To Be by Elizabeth Baines (short stories)

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Benediction (Plainsong Series) by Kent Haruf

Coffin Road by Peter May

Good Books

Looking for a book as a present – or for yourself ? I can recommend all these – I enjoyed them very much. Happy reading!

24 Hours by Claire Seeber

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Rebellion by Livi Michael

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

‘December 4th 1956 Baby placed for adoption with Mr and Mrs Staincliffe’

It was thirty-seven years later, prompted by having my own children, that I took the first step to finding out more about my background. I knew only that my mother was an unmarried Irish nurse who came over to Leeds to have me in secret. I had her surname, Ryan, my place and date of birth but nothing else. That first step was picking up a leaflet about the charity After Adoption. The very prospect of calling the number and setting anything in motion was so frightening that I put the leaflet in a drawer for a year. Finally in 1994 I went ahead, had a number of counselling sessions and obtained my adoption papers. Every nugget of information I found there was like a jewel, parts of my story. I learned her first name, Evelyn, that she was a twin, one of 12 children from ‘a good home’ in County Wexford. The social worker’s notes recommended she should be helped ‘for the sake of her brothers’, two of them were studying to be priests. Evelyn was charged for staying at the home, a bill itemised so many nights for her, so many for me. It would have been possible to trace her then, all too easily, but there was no way I was ready to face the possible rejection – a second rejection. Because however much I understood intellectually that it was impossible for her to keep me in those times, in that community, that she could have been flung into one of the Magdalene laundries had she tried, on an emotional level I felt grief and anger that she had given me away. I did put myself on the contact register but there was no match. Deciding that I would only pursue the matter if the desire to know grew greater than my fears, I put everything away in a folder.

In 1996 I got a letter out of the blue from After Adoption saying my birth-mother and sister were looking for me and wanted to know if I’d be open to contact. My world turned upside down. I learnt I had seven full birth brothers and sisters, that our parents had gone on to marry and that my birth-father had died. He’d been the only person in the world apart from Evelyn who knew of my existence until she told my youngest sister Oonagh about me, in a throwaway remark. Once Oonagh got over the shock (and started speaking to Evelyn again) they determined to look for me, helped by another sister, Sarah.

I was reunited with my birth-mother in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin in 1997 and over the following months met all my siblings and their families. And my children got to know their new cousins.

The summer before my 50th birthday we had a family holiday in Wexford, and my birth-family threw a surprise (early) party for me. The biggest surprise of all were the other guests of honour: my mum and dad who had been flown over in secret to join the celebrations.

People urged me to write a book about it all but although I wanted to explore adoption I didn’t want to write an autobiography. I wanted to write more widely about people’s differing experiences of adoption and to look at the loss that affects all sides of the triangle. So I wrote a novel about three babies adopted in 1960, their stories and the stories of their birth and adoptive families up until the end of the century. It’s called Trio and you can get it on Kindle and also as a paperback direct from my website.

After Adoption can be contacted via their website.

 

Writing Tips

One of my followers on Twitter asked me recently if I had any tips for a novice writer. I couldn’t convey much in 140 characters but promised to blog about it. Here’s a version of the hand out I gave people when I taught creative writing for the Workers Educational Association and ran freelance workshops.

1. Do it.

Set aside some time each day or week when your writing takes priority. Don’t let anything sway you from this. Even if you don’t feel inspired put the time in – practise the art of getting words on paper. Try not to be too critical as you write – get the ideas down – the language can be tidied up later.

2. Ideas.

Stuck for ideas – try taking a news headline, an overheard remark, the face of someone in the shops, a phrase or a picture as a trigger for a story or poem. If you feel completely stuck do an exercise instead – write about something ‘easy’ – your first memory, the day you started work, describe a place you know well or write a letter or diary entry as a different character. Nothing is ever wasted and once you are writing the ideas should come more easily.

3. Characters

Do you know enough about them – can you see inside to how they think and feel? Are they distinct from each other? Build up a clear, visual picture of them and keep asking yourself how they would behave in various situations.  Do different characters speak differently in your dialogue? Does what they say tell us more about them (or advance the plot)? Whose story is it – whose point of view are we following?  Do you care about the characters, identify with any of them? Will a reader be bored or intrigued? You can use file cards to create biographies for your characters. Think about their quirks and secrets as well as the more usual aspects.

4. Story

Avoid long preambles – start as things are getting exciting/intriguing. If you are having trouble with the sequence of events try writing them all out as headings on post-it notes or file cards and arranging them in an order. Consider the pace of your story, where does the turning point or climax to it fall? Is the ending rushed or too slow?

5.  Experiment

Trying out new styles, forms, ideas can help stretch you imagination and you might discover hidden talents. You can also experiment with your work by changing aspects and seeing if it strengthens what you’ve got – change it into a different narrative voice (1st person to 3rd) or change the tense. Try a different structure with flashbacks or flash forwards even. Could some of it be told in the form of letters or as a diary? Would it work to tell different parts of the story from different characters’ viewpoints?

6. Style

You have probably already got your own style – a way of writing that comes most easily and that will be unique to you. Try developing this, improving this. Read other writers and learn from them. If you are not happy with what you are writing consider some of these elements: what tense have you used, whose viewpoint, would it be better in another form, is the structure working or is that the problem – how might you change it? Look at how the paragraphs fall, and the sentences. Are they all the same length? Do they all start the same way? Would it be improved with some variety?

Do the metaphors or similes you’re using work – do they suit your style?

7. Editing

Put away your work for a few days or even longer so you can come to it fresh. Read it through fully marking any parts where you think there’s room for improvement or alteration. Does your work communicate what you want it to? Does it evoke the reactions you want from the reader? Is it creating the right mood or atmosphere? How can it be better, tighter, richer?

When you are reviewing your work look out for repetition (unless deliberate). Avoid clichés and very hackneyed phrases – they are dull for the reader. Don’t use qualifiers (a little tired, rather late, fairly brisk) they tend to weaken the sense. Wherever possible use specific and concrete words to root your writing in reality (she was watching Coronation Street rather than she was watching a soap opera).

Don’t overwrite – leave some space for the reader to bring their imagination to your work. Two astute lines of description can do the job even better than half a page.

Try reading aloud for the rhythm and to check that dialogue sounds right.

Does your writing appeal to all the senses? A little about smell and sounds and the tactile feel of things is great to give vivid description.

Show don’t tell is a cardinal rule – it is much better for the reader to see a character directly experience something and glimpse that feeling rather than be told, e.g. Sally was very scared is weaker than Sally felt her skin prickle, her breath catch. Likewise They had an argument and he walked out would be much more interesting if we read the argument (or at least some of it) and saw the gestures and reactions of the pair on the page.

8. Don’t give up

Once you’ve finished a piece, move on, start the next. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Don’t give up. Good luck.

 

 

Change

‘What’s a miner?’ his grand-daughter asked. The question snatched his breath away just as the blue-black dust had. He saw the pit-head, the winding gear wheeling above, felt the shudder of the cage, heard the clatter of the wagons, the thunder of picks and hammers on stone, tasted coal. Recalled the life of a whole village beaten out to the rhythm of the mine, broken by the stutter of the hooter that roared disaster. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

More Recommended Reads

Most but not all of these are crime. There’s a great range of styles and, I now notice, locations too. Hopefully you can find something here that you’ll enjoy as much as I did :)

The Cartel by Don Winslow

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

The Lie by Helen Dunmore

And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley

After The Crash by Michel Bussi

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches

EntryIsland by Peter May

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray