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

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.




‘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

A Picture Paints Two Thousand, Four Hundred And Sixty-Eight Words.

That was the word count* for my story Homecoming in the new Murder Squad and Accomplices anthology. A story inspired by a black and white photograph. Like many novelists I take the opportunity in between writing books to try my hand at short stories. It is a great way to experiment, to try out new styles and develop characters and situations that perhaps wouldn’t suit a full length novel. This project with publishers Graffeg was particularly enjoyable, combining as it does photographs and prose. If you’ve ever gone to creative writing workshops you’ve probably been asked to write something based on a stimulus – a phrase or a physical object, a newspaper cutting or a piece of music. I love that sort of exercise which I think often serves as a door opening, giving us permission to be inventive and go wherever our imagination takes us. For The Starlings And Other Stories we each chose a photograph from David Wilson’s Pembrokeshire book. The one I selected was of an isolated and derelict house. It immediately made me wonder whose home it had been, where they had gone, why the house had been left to rot and what would it be like for someone who’d lived there to return. You can find the answers to those questions in my story. And now I’ve read the whole of the anthology I can highly recommend it. It is fascinating to see where people went from that initial springboard of a single image.

*For those who recall my post about not doing word counts – I do tally up at the end and usually my heart sinks. But that’s not an issue with short stories :-)


Starlings 50

What Are You Reading?

Here’s another batch of recent reads. Some of these authors were on my panel at Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. Other titles I heard about from Twitter – so thanks for the recommendations and keep them coming. Enjoy!

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Everland by Rebecca Hunt

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

A Lovely Way To Burn by Louise Welsh

This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash

In The Rosary Garden by Nicola White

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Tuesday Falling by S. Williams

Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

More Book Recommendations

It’s been a while since I posted a list of recent good reads because I’ve been bound up with publication of my new novel Half The World Away. I was delighted when I was up at the Carlisle Crime Writing Weekend to hear from a librarian who appreciates these lists as it helps her to find titles to recommend to readers. Thank you! So here are some more excellent novels for your consideration.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

Sandrine by Thomas H. Cook

Half The World Away

So far I’ve written twenty-two books. They are all set in Manchester except for my latest which, as the title suggests, ventures a little further afield – to China.

HalfTheWorldAway Cover10

The book has a very simple premise – it’s the story of Jo and Tom Maddox, an estranged couple, who reunite in a desperate search for their daughter, Lori, who has gone missing in China. I chose China partly because my son lives there, and it would make the job of research a little easier, but mainly because China is such a fascinating country and so very different from here. A place in the throes of huge development and change and somewhere that my characters would feel completely at sea, unable to understand the language, unfamiliar with the culture and customs. I’d never been to China – or anywhere in Asia – so I’d little idea of what to expect when I visited. Once there, as I gathered background material for the book, I knew it was important to capture the particular feel of the city, Chengdu. Not just with visual descriptions but by conveying the sounds and smells, the tactile sensations of the air and dust, the taste of the spicy food, the atmosphere. As well as making notes on my visit, I also took lots of pictures and used some of these locations for scenes in the book. Here’s a selection below – to give you a flavour.  If you read the novel you’ll recognise these places, I hope. And as I posted previously I’m delighted with how the cover reflects both the story of the book and directly references one of the most suspenseful sections in the hunt for Lori.

35 storey blocks 10   street scene 10river 10  Construction 10hot pot 10   bamboo stand 10building work 10 Yue Tao - poet 10 Buddhas 10traffic 10river viewing tower 10


Cover Story – The Making Of A Book 3

Half The World Away is published on June 4th in hardback and ebook and we’ve now reached Stage 5 of the process of making a book – the creation of the book cover. Here is it.

HalfTheWorldAway Cover 15

I’m delighted with it. In general authors don’t get much opportunity to contribute to discussions about the book jacket but in this case I was able to see some early draft ideas and give my responses. Already people have said that it draws them in and makes them keen to know more, which is exactly what you want from a book cover. I think it also works particularly well because it reflects the content of the story, we can see there’s a Chinese element to it and the blurring of the letters in the title combined with the shout line at the top signals the type of story you can expect. Also, and you’d only know this after reading the book, it echoes very clearly some of the most suspenseful chapters in the narrative.

Once a book is written it has its own identity. As a writer all my books feel distinct and different to me, and the hope is that when a cover is created it will match the identity of the book in my head. This doesn’t have to be literal, a cover can suggest mood or location or it can reference similar titles in the genre (I wrote about this in the past when some of my books were part of the ‘single female eye’ trend kicked off by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). I’m not aware of this new cover being part of a trend – but maybe I’m just not alert to it yet. Anyway big thanks to the designer and the team at Little, Brown and Constable & Robinson who’ve worked so hard on this. And happy reading everyone.