Recently I was invited into Radio Leeds to do a One on One programme with presenter Liz Green.  This involved an hour’s in depth interview, talking about my life and work and choosing a number of pieces of music that had special importance or significance for me at particular times.  A little like Desert Island Discs.  I could only pick 10 and that was so difficult but I winnowed it down and I’ve listed them below – without the associated memories.  What would your ten tunes be?

(On another very vaguely related note, I am sometimes asked if I write to music.  The answer is a resounding NEVER!  I would have to work hard to block out the sound if there was music playing, even if it was instrumental.  And it would interfere with me writing dialogue which I frequently speak aloud, playing all the parts myself.)

1. Getting to Know You  (The King and I: Deborah Kerr/Marni Nixon)

2. My Boy Lollipop – Millie

3. Twist and Shout – Beatles

4. Ride A White Swan – T Rex

5. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

6. No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley and the Wailers

7. White Man at Hammersmith Palais – The Clash

8. The Wedding – Abdullah Ibrahim

9. Warm and Tender Love – Percy Sledge

10. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone


I think copyediting is really, rally important an one of the drawbacks of self-publishing (witch I have done) is if your not choosing to use a professional copy editor who can make all the right changes tot he manuscript.  Theirs nothing worse than seeing speech marks in the wrong plaice or having too characters called Mark, or getting the daze mixed up.  And a good copy editor will help you a void repetition to as well any contraindications.  There the best,    Sew if you are self-publishing try and fined someone who can help you with this.  (I didn’t bother here: because this is just a short peace.  Good look!?

Self-publishing – from paperbacks to ebooks

Trio is a novel about adoption (and very different from my usual crime fiction titles).  I wanted to write it because of my own experience as an adoptee and to reflect other stories I’d come across from people in the adoption triangle.  Originally published in hardback by a small publisher it soon went out of print.  Feedback on the book was very positive and as it was close to my heart I wanted to keep it in print and available to people.  So I set myself up as a small press, got my partner Tim to design a cover and found a printer.  I paid for a very small print run because I couldn’t afford more and storage was a problem anyway.  For the next eight years I sold the book (out of boxes under my bed) via Amazon and to the wholesalers Gardners and Bertrams as well as at talks and events.  Sales were in very modest numbers and due to my naivety and total lack of business acumen every single sale I made lost me money – I’d paid a high per unit cost for the books, postage was more than I’d imagined (and kept increasing) and Amazon took a large percentage of each sale.  Then came ebooks.  I paid someone to help me convert Trio and list it on Amazon for Kindle.  I selected a low price (£1.53) but one where I’d make 70% royalties.  And I watched in amazement as Trio sold many, many times more copies than it ever had done as a paperback.  Last month the paperback version went out of print.  If money, time and space were no object I’d keep it in print as a physical book in order to reach people who don’t have ebook readers but for now I’m not re-issuing it.  And I’m still quite dumbfounded by the difference in the economics.

Enhanced Ebooks

I heard an item on Radio 4 a while ago about enhanced eBooks.  Andrew Motion described how a soundtrack had been created for his book Silver, the sequel to Treasure Island.  From what I could gather it was background/ambient noise that was added – so if a scene was set in an inn, there’d be the sounds of people talking and tankards chinking or whatever, or a chapter in a storm would have fitting weather noises.  I had contradictory responses (often the way with me – I blame the Libran brain architecture).  On the one hand it was an amazing idea technically and artistically to add that aural texture, and on the other why would I want anyone ‘interfering’ with my reading by inserting some interpretation between the word and my imagination?  A book demands so much of us as readers, we actively construct our view of the characters and action, the setting  and atmosphere, filling in the spaces that a good writer gives us.  (That’s why an adaptation of a book we love into film or TV often frustrates – because it can never be how we imagined it).  However Andrew Motion argued studies show that enhanced eBooks actually improve the engagement of the reader and that they remember and retain even more of  what they’ve read than someone reading a ‘normal’ book does.  It’s probably not fair to say more until I’ve tried it for myself.  But it makes me wonder what’s next.  Smells?  Texture?  Taste?

RIP Neil Armstrong

A Human Perspective

From space

The coast of Madagascar

Frills sweet lace

Across the cobalt

Of an ocean’s sway.

Daybreak over arced horizons

Light rims the curve

Rays split across the globe.

The world turns.


From space

The thin blue shell of atmosphere

Washes rose

Sudden sunrise

Bursts across the backbone of the Andes

Pours into lagoons

Paints atolls in coral

Warms the earth.

The world turns.


From space

Storms flash across

The Malaspina glacier

Dance down to Manitoba

Skate over the ice

Leap above forests

Traverse waters bright then deep

Tumble around the vast Pacific.

The world turns.


From space


The veined continent of Africa

Gold, green and brown.

Volcano, savannah,

The red-ribbed dunes of the Namib desert

Rocked on the cradle

Of steady blue waters.

The world turns.


The cosmonauts, the astronauts,

Have seen it all,

And weep.


©Cath Staincliffe   Originally published in No Earthly Reason (Crocus) 1989

Great Reads

I used to do some reviewing, initially for The Manchester Evening News and then for Tangled Web and Deadly Pleasures.  It’s wonderful to have a stream of books arriving and to discover new authors as well as catching up with favourites.  Recently pressure of work meant I had to give up reviews altogether and I must admit it was a real relief to read books without having one eye on what I was going to write about it.  (Although I’d done this with non crime titles all along.)  Anyway without the pressure of writing any actual reviews I’d like to recommend some books I’ve read recently to you.  Genre and style vary but what they all have in common is great storytelling, vivid settings,  fully rounded characters, quality prose.  They each have an individuality, a unique flavour which means they linger in the mind.  Enjoy.

In no particular order:

Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Shadow of the Rock – Thomas Mogford

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel

Year of the Tiger – Lisa Brackman

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

The Kings of Cool – Don Winslow

Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer

The Child Who – Simon Lelic


Ideally I prefer to find a title once the book is written and that’s the way I’ve approached it with my private eye and police series.  Only at the end can I be sure what this particular book is about compared to the others and I’ve often found unexpected themes emerging in the process of writing.

I take a couple of weeks to mull over possible titles, write down any themes, topics, motifs from the novel along with anything about location, character or images that seem particularly strong.  Then I browse books of phrase and fable, proverbs, the dictionary and thesaurus.

I like to use phrases when I can find them and titles that can be interpreted in more than one way.  It helps if there’s something unusual or memorable in the title, to distinguish it from all the others on the shelves.  Once I’ve created a short-list I gradually whittle it down until I have a favourite. It’s a bit like choosing a name for a baby: a list of alternatives informed by the nature of the creature once you know what it’s like.  Sometimes I find the perfect title only to discover that another crime writer has beaten me to it (looking at you Mark Billingham).

More recently, with my stand-alone novels, I’ve had to come up with an idea for the theme of the book and its title at the start of the process – with an option to alter the name if I discover something better in the meantime.   And stashed away I’ve a couple of titles that I love the sound of but have never (yet) suited my stories.



If you don’t know anything about this festival you can learn more here.  It was a great chance to meet friends and readers and to hear authors whose work I love debate issues about writing crime.  It’s also a chance to network.  I met my Dutch publisher, Claudia van der Werf from De Fontein,  who will be bringing out the Scott and Bailey novels, starting next year.  On Friday afternoon a panel on eBooks caused a great buzz.  Other people have written eloquently about it – you can read a good account from Steve Mosby, also coverage on the welovethisbook website and from the controversial author at the heart of the storm.

The consensus is that eBooks are here to stay and everyone in the industry needs to adapt to the changing market.  How cheap and disposable should our stories be was a key issue.  How to value books?  If people get used to downloading books for 99p or less will that devalue books as a whole, and end up leaving most authors even more hard up than they already are?  So far my experience of digital publishing has been very positive.  My publisher Constable and Robinson won the Ingram digital publishing award this year and Rob Nichols, the digital marketing director, is skilled at using promotions for limited periods to attract readers.  It worked so well for me that Witness reached No.2 on Amazon’s Kindle fiction list and No.1 in Crime, Mystery and Thrillers.  I’ve also self-published some of my backlist and set a modest price which keeps sales ticking over – and keeps out-of-print titles available for new readers.

On the Saturday evening I was delighted to be one of the suspects in Come Die With Me, a murder mystery dinner organized by Ann Cleeves, and based on her novel The Glass Room novel.  One of the Vera Stanhope series.  What’s special about the event is it gives readers an opportunity to meet and get to know the upcoming authors who host each table.  And to take away free signed copies of the author’s latest title.  My fellow suspects, real identities, author N.J. Cooper, publisher Jeremy Trevathan, forensic soil scientist Lorna Dawson and actor Jon Morrison turned in stellar performances.  Though one of them was lying through his teeth and turned out to be the guilty party.  It was a great event – part of a great weekend and I’m already looking forward to next year.

And the winner is…

I am celebrating this week, after a surprise win at the Daggers Awards on 5th of July.  Margaret Murphy and I jointly won the Short Story Dagger, Margaret with her story The Message and me with Laptop, both from Best Eaten Cold, a Murder Squad anthology, edited by Martin Edwards.  Many thanks to Martin for his excellent work as our editor, and to Matilda Richards at The History Press who approached us initially with the idea of doing a new anthology, also to Barry Forshaw for writing the foreword and, most of all, to Murder Squad.  Since forming, in 2000, at Margaret’s instigation, we’ve been able to support and encourage each other and jointly promote our work and that of the genre as a whole.  I’ve been lucky enough to be short listed twice before, for the John Creasey best first novel in 1995 and for the dagger in the library in 2006.  It is a tremendous honour and a real boost to get on a shortlist (and something to include on book covers and in biographies for time immemorial!).

I can tell you now it genuinely was a surprise to win, there is no subtle whispering in corners to tip you the wink.  So I was very relaxed during the meal before the announcements, not expecting to have to do more than share in the applause.  Our amazement at winning was such that I’m only glad that Margaret was able to string together some words of thanks.  I was useless.

As a reader, when choosing library books, I’d often be drawn by a Dagger reference on the cover.  A guarantee of quality if you like.  I think awarding the Daggers is the most important aspect of the CWA’s work and I’d like to say a big thank you to those in the CWA who have worked so hard to raise the profile of the prizes in recent years.  Congratulations too to everyone who made the shortlists and to those on the long lists for the Gold, John Creasey and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers.  Those winners will be announced later this year.

Finally a massive thanks to all the crime fiction readers out there – the most important part of the equation.