“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”
― Daphne du Maurier
Introducing Philip Catshill, author of the Mike Newman Mysteries. A series of Crime Novels set around the fictitious city of Hartingham . I am posting the interview in two parts because Mr. Catshill’s responses were so insightful, thoughtful and well written, that I didn’t want to miss a single thing.
Part II will be posted on Saturday August 25th!
How would you describe yourself in 7 words or less?
Not healthy, wealthy or wise – but smiling.
When and why did you begin writing?
I had a major stroke when I was 30 and the doctors didn’t think I would live for another 30 minutes, let alone the 30 years that have followed. I was coming up to that anniversary when I thought I ought to write about the experience, if only to inspire others facing the same struggles. I am indebted to a physiotherapist named Angela, who told me I must never say I can’t. Thanks to her, I was inspired to recover. “C.V.A. a hard way back” describes the ups and many downs of the eighteen months from the moment when all I could remember were the words, every and each, until I returned to work as an operational British police officer.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I had completed the book about my stroke, “C.V.A. a hard way back” and explored various avenues into getting it published. My stroke had been caused by the combination of an accidental blow on the head and a few drinks at a party, and that got me thinking. I stress here that the blow to my head was genuinely accidental, but what if it had been deliberate? Could I write a novel based around a fictitious police officer, brain-damaged following an assault? The answer introduced Mike Newman into the fictitious city of Hartingham.
Do you have a specific writing style?
My writing aims for realism, even the supernatural parts have a logical explanation. Realism is also my painting style, but unlike my paintings, which, by the way, can be seen on my website at my writing calls on the imagination of the reader to fill in the gaps. For All Eternity (and not a Single day Less) is my free (except on Amazon) introduction to the characters, but the first full length novel, “Who Else is There?” introduces a serial killer to the reader. A serial killer implies that there will be a certain amount of violence. However, instead of describing the most serious of the assaults in a blow-by-blow account as other authors have done, in most cases, I have left it to the readers’ imaginations as the investigation proceeds. One critic described the technique as disturbingly powerful, which I have taken as a compliment. I don’t think a good writer needs to resort to over descriptive graphic violence, bad language or sexual explicitness to produce a great book. They are all in my book, but the descriptions are not overdone. Sex and violence may sell more books, but it is the story that makes a great book into a classic.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
Oh the hidden agenda. I stress that my characters are fictional and the events they become involved in are also fictional, but some of the emotions they feel are not. Some are based on my personal hurt. As it is on Amazon, Facebook and anywhere where else that requires a profile, I make no secret of the fact that I have now been estranged from my natural children for twenty years. That has been their choice, and is a story in itself. Both are in their late thirties and one has a husband and family of her own. In this respect, I am making a few emotional points as the novels progress but generally, these are coming from the lips of my characters. Mike Newman has a lot to say about unfairness and injustice. For instance, he works his socks off so an armed robber can get prison release to attend his daughter’s wedding, on the grounds that every dad should be there, no matter what he’s accused of. I wasn’t told when my daughter got married. After a silence of 16 years, my daughter got in touch because she had heard I was seriously ill after treatment for a heart condition and a prostate problem, and wanted to tell me that my first natural grandchild was on the way. Reviving my hopes at that time only to crush them without explanation just a few months later, is something I have difficulty coming to terms with. I still have hope. I still have prayer but my granddaughter is almost five and has yet to see her granddad. The emotional distress this caused is reflected in the story Penalty for Murder. But I stress the point, for everything I lost I have gained a thousand times more. I may not be allowed to be granddad to this granddaughter, but there are six others in this world that honour me with the title. Prayer works!
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Obviously there are similarities between Mike Newman’s injuries and my own, so I can relate to his anxieties, difficulties and problems. When half your brain is blown away at a stroke, it not only changes you, but it changes those around you and Mike is having as much difficulty coming to terms with this as he is coming to terms with his disabilities. I’ve just mentioned that he is a champion for fairness. I tend towards the same, and despite being a former police officer, I am not quick to judge my fellow-man. I want to hear the full story before I reach conclusions. I do not condone crime, but I believe that it is for the courts to impose punishment, not the mob.
For over forty years, I have been intrigued by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It is so clever that although I have read it three dozen times, I still find it fascinating. Why do we applaud when a self-confessed murderer is not convicted for his crimes? Maxim de Winter shot his wife in cold blood, concealed her body and lied on oath. Alright, Rebecca was a bad lot and was going to die anyway, but does that really justify her murder? It is very clever writing, and written in the first person which isn’t easy. After Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it has the most famous opening line of all time.
What are your current projects?
I am about half way into writing a new novel which has moved me away from the mystery and crime of the Mike Newman Series, although I have poached one of the characters. Penelope or Penny is the twenty year old stepdaughter of a British Member of Parliament, and sets off on a globetrotting adventure in pursuit of the man who is supposed to have killed her father, but all is not that straightforward. If you want romance, adventure, excitement, suspense and believable action from beginning to end, watch out for “Penny for Them.” Not only is this a complete change of direction for me, but it is a challenge on two counts. I am writing in the first person and from the heroine’s point of view.
You had a “rough life” how did these events you experienced make you who you are today?
Where did this “rough life” come from? Believe me; I don’t see it like that. I may have had a few glitches with illness and bereavement, but I’ve had some great times. I thoroughly enjoyed the nineteen years of my first marriage. The happy adventurous times I had with my daughters only came to an end when I wasn’t able to cope mentally when my wife transferred her affection to a much younger man. After, when I had no place to call home, my life turned around when a friend at work encouraged me to pray. Things didn’t get better straight away, I don’t think God works like that, but within months, I had found new love and was accepted into a wonderful caring family who have shared my life for twenty glorious years, the twenty years which I call my God given years, because it was only my new-found faith that sustained me in those few dark days. Prayer works. If I assess the happy years from my first marriage and the brilliant years from my second, the rough times in between pale into insignificance. Life is great; I live it; I love it.
* Thank you so much for being such a positive soul Philip!
Philip Catshill is a former British police officer and lives in England. He has had several unique life experiences, near death encounters, physical disabilities and emotional incidents that have combined to provide a firm foundation for his excellent stories. As he approached his 60th birthday, Philip, who is still severely disabled, decided to write about that stroke from 30 years before. From that experience, there emerged the fictional character of Mike Newman, and his series of books Who Else Is There, Suffer Little Children, and Penalty for Murder.