Nov­el­ist and screen­writer Cath Stain­cliffe on Blue Mur­der, Scott & Bai­ley and her tense thriller about ter­ror­ism on a train.

Crime Scene - - CASE NOTES -

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.


Police procedure and pri­vate lives: Su­ranne Jones and Lesley Sharp in Scott & Bai­ley.

The Si­lence Be­tween Breaths (Constable) is out on 22 Sep­tem­ber.

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