Catherine Moloney: Author and explorer of dark side

By Simon Hart

‘I am lucky as I’ve known wonderful priests and nuns,’ says Catherine Moloney. ‘I hear people who haven’t had such lovely experiences and I can turn that to good use. I suppose I have killed some of my clerics, haven’t I!’

Catherine, let us stress, is a crime-fiction writer and her words are accompanied by laughter. Author of the DI Gilbert Markham series published by Joffe Books, she is an Oxford Law graduate who became a barrister and later chose crime fiction because of an ‘interest in the darker side of human nature’.

The parishioner at Bishop Eton, Childwall, elaborates: ‘Mixing with lawyers who had gritty, interesting stories to tell – maybe that rubbed off on me. I try not to dwell on the murders. I’m interested in what makes people tick and the psychological side. It’s that idea of exploring human character. I’m a great fan of the Agatha Christies, George Gently and Endeavour.’
She wrote her first two ‘potboilers (as she calls them self-deprecatingly) while still teaching English at a secondary school in Rochdale. Having once earned a PhD in Victorian Literature and Tuberculosis, she observes that ‘crime fiction is so light by comparison’ and since the publication of her first novel in 2018, she has written at a prolific rate – she is currently working on number 12 in the series. ‘I like to do it in two and a half months,’ she explains. ‘I’ll sit down and give myself a day to come up with a story and a set of characters and once I’ve got that, I won’t budge from it. I’ll map out the chapters then, and it’s almost like a theatre director mapping out a play.’
Looking back, she concedes that ‘the first one was quite wooden because I was learning how to write’ and a particular challenge initially was dialogue. ‘I now enjoy writing the dialogue more than anything else. I see my characters as a family and the strange thing is that, at times, I hear them talking in my head so, if this doesn’t sound bonkers, they’re very real to me. I might be writing a chapter and one of my characters takes over and it goes off in a completely different direction.’
Her Catholic faith influences her writing too. ‘I like it to have some moral dimension as well. Does that sound really preachy and obnoxious?’ she adds with a chuckle. It has also informed various settings for the novels, including a cathedral choir school and a convent.

Catherine relates the strident reaction of one reader: ‘Somebody tackled me in Tesco about my hatred of the Church which was really odd. I have a tremendous love of the Church. It’s always been there underpinning everything. My faith is very simple, almost child-like. We were one of those families where lots of our holidays were spent going round mouldy old churches looking at saints’ statues so it was always a very real physical thing as well as spiritual. A lot of people think Catholics are ever so gloomy and guilt-ridden but it’s a very joyful faith.’
It was family too that bequeathed another source of joy: her love of words. Indeed her father, Peter Moloney, wrote for many years the ‘Only Moloney’ column in the Catholic Pic. ‘Pa always said heredity counts for something,’ she smiles. ‘He did his weekly column for years and years and it was always a bit of a sacred ritual never to intrude on him at those moments. It is wonderful to feel he’s passed the bat on to me in some way. It must be my Pa who’s influenced me so much.'

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