Poet and author Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall but has chosen to make her home in Wales. In the latest episode of the Meet A Welsh Author series she talks about her love of Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy and her late discovery of the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.
Earliest Reading Memory
My mum teaching me to read using the Peter and Jane flashcard method which I guess must have been the recognised method at the time (mid 1980s). My dad worked away during the week and every Friday when he came home he brought my sister and I the next book in the Puddle Lane series which we loved.
The Author Who Changed My Mind
Slightly skewing the question (apologies!), Melody Razak’s novel Moth, which starts just before the Partition of India, taught me so much about the experiences of people on the ground as events unfolded. The book brought home to me the scale of upheaval at Partition. Until I read this novel, I was shamefully ignorant of the violence and trauma people endured when the British left.
The Author I Keep Returning To
Hilary Mantel. If I had time, I’d read her Thomas Cromwell trilogy once a year every year. They’re the most luminous novels I’ve ever read. The way she connects you to her protagonist Cromwell is like nothing I’ve experienced before in fiction, and she animates the world of the sixteenth century in what feels to me a completely new way. Breath-taking!
An Unexpected Pleasure
The Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. This shouldn’t have been unexpected really, given that I love historical crime novels and very much enjoyed the television adaptation with Derek Jacobi in the title role in the 1990s.
But I didn’t read the novels about Brother Cadfael, the mystery-solving Welsh Benedictine monk, until much more recently and fell in love with the world of twelfth-century Shrewsbury and the Welsh Marches that Peters creates. During lockdowns, I took great comfort in escaping to Cadfael’s herbarium and workshop. I’ve been slowly making my way through the whole series of books, not wanting to rush because I can’t bear to reach the end!
Most Recommended Book
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. This is the first book in Locke’s Highway 59 series set in modern day East Texas and featuring black Texan Ranger Darren Matthews. It’s a brilliant exploration of character, and the gripping crime plot results from the legacy of racial segregation and related land disputes in a small community. I love all Locke’s book but this is the one I recommend most often.
You Won’t Find Me Reading …
I’m not a big fan of stories about serial killers or really violent individuals with creative ways of torturing people. Psychological exploration of ‘baddies’ I’m very much up for, but I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to detailed nastiness.
My Favourite Writing Place
Writing retreats! I love going to Ty Newydd, the writers’ centre in North Wales, and Gladstone’s Library near Chester. These are both places set up for writers to stay and get their heads down with work. I find both places very conducive to making real progress with books, not least because of the food arrangements. For me, the food has got to be laid on because I get very distracted by meal planning, shopping, the washing up
The Last Book I bought …
Zadie Smith’s book of essays Feel Free which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been reading lots more essays in the last few years.
I Would Love to Have Dinner/Drink With …
I think it would have to be the late, great Hilary Mantel, but sadly that’s not going to come to pass, unless there are literary lunches on the ‘other side’ in which case I will be making for her table. I’ve read so many of her interviews and articles, and listened to her on the radio and television, and she never fails to offer me a new way of thinking about writing, reading, history, the world. And she was so funny! It would have been a great privilege to talk to her in person about anything – the weather, the wine list, the choice of socks she was wearing.
I Wish I’d Written …
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Another historical crime story, this one set in the Scottish Highlands in 1869, with a fascinating structure. The book is told through documents relating to the case, such as medical reports, and is wonderfully tricksy in terms of truth and doubt. I’m in awe of books like this.
The Author Behind The Name: Katherine Stansfield
Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. She is a multi-genre novelist and poet. Her historical crime series Cornish Mysteries has won the Holyer an Gof Fiction Prize and been shortlisted for the Winston Graham Memorial Prize. The most recent instalment is The Mermaid’s Call.
She co-writes a fantasy crime trilogy with her partner David Towsey, publishing as D. K. Fields, and has also published two full length poetry collections and a pamphlet with the Welsh independent publisher Seren Books.
She teaches creative writing for a number of universities and has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. In 2021, along with fellow members of Crime Cymru — the Welsh crime writers’ collective — Katherine launched a new prize for debut crime writers in Wales.
Falling Creatures: Synopsis
Cornwall, 1844. On a lonely moorland farm not far from Jamaica Inn, farmhand Shilly finds love in the arms of Charlotte Dymond. But Charlotte has many secrets, possessing powers that cause both good and ill. When she’s found on the moor with her throat cut, Shilly is determined to find out who is responsible, and so is the stranger calling himself Mr Williams who asks for Shilly’s help. Mr Williams has secrets too, and Shilly is thrown into the bewildering new world of modern detection.
Falling Creatures, is the first in Katherine’s solo crime series is published by Allison & Busby. It’s available in hardback, paperback and ebook.