Catherine Steadman is a woman of many parts. A celebrated actress, novelist and screenwriter, best known as Lady Mary’s love rival Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey, her two novels to date, both tightly wound psychological thrillers, have been huge bestsellers. We catch up with her as her second novel Mr Nobody is released in paperback.

Where are you now?

Sitting in my living room with the garden doors open.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

I used to write out and about, in cafes, on public transport, beaches or sometimes in the British Library, but now we’re all pretty much working from home, aren’t we? I used to enjoy the background noise and activity in communal spots, it always put me in a very focused state. Now I tend to pick a perch in the house and just go for it. But you’ve got to choose a perch wisely as, in a good session, you might not get up and move around for about four hours a stint if you’re in it. Don’t be seduced into working crossed-legged on the floor, I made that mistake early lockdown and it didn’t work out well for me at all!!

How would you summarise your lockdown experience?

It’s hard to tell really. I had my first child in January so it’s hard to separate the experience of maternity leave/working from home – from the experience of the lockdown. I’m very fortunate in that I had, to an extent, planned to be in the house a lot more than usual for the first few months of this year. Plus, I can work wherever really, so things have continued in that sense as normal. I think the fascinating thing about the whole experience of lockdown is the speed at which we have all adapted to change, and the timely reminder that our health as a nation and as individuals really is far more important than we all allow ourselves to realise.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

Find a spot, plug in laptop/open notes, grab a glass of cold water or a nice coffee and go!

Full-time or part-time?

Interesting question. I split my time between acting, writing and screenwriting now – so I guess I’d have to say part-time. Although while I’m working on drafts it is very much full-time.

Pen or keyboard?


How do you relax when you’re writing?

I find being in a state of flow on a draft very relaxing. Your mind clears and you have the clarity to make quick decisions and hold a lot of different strands of story in your head at once. After a full day, at least during the pandemic, I’ve been putting my daughter to bed, having a well-deserved glass of wine, watching Netflix and scouring ‘The Modern House’ website for dream homes.

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

Memento meets Sharp Objects.

A man with no memory washes up on a beach. Who is he and what happened?

Who do you write for?

Myself – in the hope that if I find the story engaging others will too.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My editors and agent. When I get to proof stage I’ll let friends and family read.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Jane Eyre or Arthur Dent.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

I love the Larkin Poem ‘Mr Bleaney’ it’s got a very Mr Nobody vibe to it…

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; Swimming Home by Deborah Levy; Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?


Which book/s do you treasure the most?

Too many to single out

What is the last work you read in translation?

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

Shirley Jackson – Dark Tales.

What will you read next?

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on my next novel as well as adapting Jess Ryder’s bestselling psychological thriller The Ex-Wife into a television series.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

In 1816 a group of friends including the poet Lord Byron, his personal doctor John Polidori, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley’s lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin stayed together at Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. Due to a recent volcanic explosion the weather was a washout and Byron suggested the group each tell their own ghost story… Bryon’s doctor John Polidori came up with the idea for The Vampyre (a precursor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein. I mean what a night?! That’s a gang I’d like to get back together.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Way behind on my deadline…


Catherine Steadman is an actress and writer based in North London. She has appeared in leading roles on British and American television and on stage in the West End, where was nominated for an Olivier Award. Her first novel, Something in the Water, was a No.1 New York Times bestseller with rights sold in over 30 territories, and is in development with Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. Mr Nobody is published in paperback, eBook and audio download by Simon & Schuster.
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Author portrait © Rachell Smith