IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Novelist and screenwriter Cath Staincliffe on Blue Murder, Scott & Bailey and her tense thriller about terrorism on a train.
Isuppose I write about things that frighten me – all my books explore situations that I hope I never ever find myself in but give me nightmares. That’s where this idea came from, just being aware of how this could happen at any moment to any one of us. I think about death a lot every day. It fascinates me when you hear those stories of people who missed the aeroplane that crashed into the sea. Although it’s not a whodunit, the train gives you that closed circle of people who are trapped in a situation. I did think about both a plane and a ferry as settings. But for me that train from Manchester is a journey I make sometimes when I go down to see my publishers or agent in London. Bringing the horrific into the familiar, bringing terror into everyday life – which is how terrorism operates – was an interesting way of doing it. Writing the novelisations of Scott & Bailey was great. I met with Sally Wainwright and Diane Taylor, who created the series. I had already watched it as a fan and then I watched it again once I was being commissioned to write a prequel. It was a show I loved so much, I really wanted to do it credit. I was initially asked to do the prequel, about how Janet and Rachel first met, and then the publishers commissioned two further books.
With Blue Murder I wanted it to have a warmth and a humour that wasn’t there in some cop shows. If you think of Prime Suspect or Silent Witness, there weren’t really many jokes or light moments, or feelings of people rooting for each other and connection and humour. I didn’t want my show to be everybody with long faces and furrowed brows and whisky in the drawer. There’s banter because that’s how people cope in these situations.
I had to learn very fast on the job, because I’d not written for television before they commissioned the Blue
Murder series that I pitched. With TV, the whole storyline has to be written and agreed with everyone involved. That is counter-intuitive to how I would normally write a novel. Rewriting is the other huge difference in television. On the pilot, I think I got to draft 11 and then I stopped counting.
I definitely start with character –
that’s the key for me. I’ll generally have an idea but it tends to be what if this happened, or how would you cope if that happened, rather than here’s a wonderful twist I can get in a book. It’s more about exploring people under great duress, and looking at how crime impacts on people, particularly in the more recent novels.
Sal Kilkenny, my private detective
character, she’s my first love. She’s a sort of a dogged private investigator and single parent who’s hardly managing to make a living doing what she’s doing, living in a slightly alternative way in ’90s Manchester. I think her flaw probably is that she gets too emotionally involved in some of the cases that she takes on – and that means she takes risks.
“I START WITH CHARACTER – THAT’S THE KEY FOR ME”
Police procedure and private lives: Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp in Scott & Bailey.
The Silence Between Breaths (Constable) is out on 22 September.