The idea for this novel was quite simple – a bereaved mother writes to the person who killed her daughter in an attempt to move beyond rage, and the desire for vengeance, and to find some sort of acceptance. There is a long tradition of novels written in letter form, Shelley’s Frankenstein is one, as is Dracula by Bram Stoker and more recently Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. There were challenges in choosing to use this narrative style, in getting the tone right and working out what information was revealed when and what would be divulged to the murderer through the letters, but I found it refreshing to try something so different. These days many of us use emails in place of letters but for the most personal most significant events, around love and death and birth, we still may choose to write a physical letter. Something that can be held and kept safe and re-read. When I was younger I wrote regularly to lots of people, family and friends, as a way of keeping in touch. Now decades later that has shrunk to continuing correspondence with just two. Prison must be one of the few places where personal letters still predominate, as prisoners are unable to send email or use Skype or mobile phones. And there is no limit on the number of letters a prisoner can receive. So the epistolary form did seem to be the best narrative device for the story I wanted to tell. Hope you like it.
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.
You’re not going out like that, Dad exploded. Yesss! Exactly the response she was looking for. Her heart soared.
**Originally commissioned by Cartwheel Arts
Geoff had always been known as Hamster on account of his protruding teeth and plump cheeks. Lived up to it when they found best part of ten grand’s worth of peripherals from the firm where he worked squirreled away under his bed.
*Originally published by www.the-phone-book.com (now archived)
When I write I hear the words in my head. Not just the dialogue but the narration too. And I see the pictures, the locations, people, their clothes and so on. I assume everybody does. Working in radio I’ve noticed that there are sometimes differences between how I ‘hear’ what I’ve written and how an actor delivers it, and that always surprises me. But I imagine as readers we each translate the marks on the page in our own way, with our own voices supplying that soundtrack as we follow the story.
For my novels I’m using speech recognition these days, reading aloud what I’ve written in longhand (I know – bizarre) through a microphone and into a Word document. It’s a complete pain when the phone rings or there’s someone at the door or I get a sneezing fit but on the whole it’s quicker than me just typing it all up. And staves off the RSI. But I don’t really get to hear the flow of the writing in that part of the process, I’m reading it in quite a clipped and unemotional way in order to get the best accuracy. Even then there are many errors (I’ll have to save some up for another post). Once I’ve corrected the mistakes I read my work aloud. Not only does it help me improve the rhythm and see how the pace changes but it’s great for spotting repetition and abrupt endings and weak sections. Through pressure of work I don’t always get time to read everything out loud and then when the book is published and I perform a reading in public I notice all sorts of things I’d want to change if I only had the chance.
At night she snaps the light off and steers her way to bed guided by the red glow of the extension cable. Her very own runway.
Here’s a list of my latest recommendations. Hopefully there is something for everyone here as it’s quite a mix in terms of genre - though fair to say half of them are crime fiction. What they all share is a strong story, vivid characters and locations and accomplished writing. What else could you ask for? Happy reading.
Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey
Harvest by Jim Crace
The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Trouble Man by Tom Benn
The Son by Philipp Meyer
Red Joan by Jennie Roonie
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
There was an impression, just like the Turin Shroud, she told the neighbours, but a back view. When they’d taken him away she’d run her hand round the bowl his head had made.
*Originally published by www.the-phone-book.com (now archived)
Last week I delivered the manuscript for my 20th novel. Twentieth! It’s hard to believe I’ve written that many. One question people ask is whether it gets easier and I don’t think it does. Harder perhaps, thinking up fresh situations that I haven’t explored before. The process may be more familiar but the core activities of writing: finding characters, developing the story, choosing the words, shaping the material, editing and improving it, are still as challenging and as engaging as ever. Some books flow more easily, others take a while to uncover. In my mind I think the making of a novel is a combination of discovery and construction. It’s like mining for an artefact that is buried and as you dig it out, you clean and sculpt and colour it until it feels complete. I’ve no idea whether the ‘mining’ metaphor rings true for other people but it doesn’t matter. As practitioners we all find out what methods work for us, whether we plot in advance or just start writing, when we edit, whether research precedes the writing or is done on the hoof, dipping into the internet as we go, whether we count the words or the pages, if we write chronologically or weave collages together, if we use particular software to help us with structure and continuity, whether we read aloud or dictate our work. When I start afresh with each book I still need that leap of faith, a suspension of the critical voice that tries to undermine my efforts. And when the book is written I have the all too familiar lurch of confidence while I wait for feedback, maybe even greater these days as with each new title there’s the hope it will be an improvement on what came before. The buzz I get from writing remains just as strong and rewarding as it always was and I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.
There was a moment, on the coach, as the sun licked the sky light, when she wanted to weep for the precious loveliness of it all.
On occasion I’ve heard people say they don’t like books written in the first person (often when praising a title in that narrative style that they’ve just read). I wonder why the resistance. Do they find it uncomfortable to be so intimate with the character? Is it hard to suspend disbelief and be inside another person’s head whose world view, attitudes and experiences may be a long way from their own? Personally ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ is one of the things I love about reading. Although when I’m choosing a new book I don’t consciously think about what the point of view is. Other factors – the cover, the blurb, the first page of writing, people’s recommendations – are much more significant.
But when I’m writing, the first elements I need to pin down are character and point of view. Some stories I know instinctively* have to be a sole first person. I want that intensity and focus, there is no doubt about whose story it is and it’s not to be shared. My Sal Kilkenny series uses the first person POV as does The Kindest Thing, a book about a woman who is tried for murder after she helps her husband end his life. The novel I’ve just finished, Letters to my Daughter’s Killer, which explores the question of whether it is possible to forgive a murderer, is also a first person account. Other stories such as the Blue Murder and Scott and Bailey series and standalones like Split Second suit several third person points of view. As a writer I find it refreshing to switch from spending months in the almost claustrophobic world of ‘I’ to the variety and freedom of ‘he’ and ‘she’. And in my most recently published novel, Blink of an Eye, I’ve used two narrators, both written in the first person.
Does it matter to you?
*And sometimes I don’t. Credit must go to my novel writers’ group who on reading the opening chapters of The Kindest Thing all agreed the only viewpoint they were at all interested in was Deborah’s. And so it came to be.