AUTHOR Monica Cafferky has always been fascinated by the North-East coastline. Her father Kevin was from Whitley Bay and after he married her Scottish mother, in 1955, they ran a café in the town called The El Torro.

“When I was small, my Dad used to tell me stories about growing up in Whitley Bay,” says Monica, who lives in Huddersfield. “It sounded so exciting. He played on the beach every day or went to the Spanish City amusement park, and when he and my mum opened the café, it became a biker spot.

“Mum and Dad lived on the North-East coast for some years. When I was two, though, we moved to a hotel in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. My parents worked long hours in their new business, but whenever we had free time, we would escape to the coast. I have lovely memories of visiting my grandmother in her flat overlooking the seafront in Whitley Bay and of holidays at Butlins in Filey.”

Growing up in a hotel meant there were also always piles of newspapers in the kitchen. Every morning, her father’s friend Raymond, who ran a local newsagent, delivered piles of papers for the guests.

“There was everything from the broadsheets to the tabloids,” says Monica. “By the age of seven, I was spending hours perusing the used papers, discarded by the guests, and comparing the different way that papers covered stories.

“My parents picked up on this love of words and encouraged me to read. My mother, Therese, used to take me and my three older sisters to the library every Friday and I was allowed to pick out my own books.”

Fast-forward to 19-years-old, and after a gap year living in the Greek Island of Paros, in the Cyclades, Monica went to the University of Huddersfield. She was lucky enough to study creative writing with poets such as Milner Place and John Lancaster.

“It was at university that I decided I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “Amazingly, my work was published in various anthologies including one with The Albert Poets, a group of writers based in Huddersfield. But I knew I wouldn’t make a living as a poet, so I opted for journalism.”

Following her first job on a martial art’s magazine, and a scholarship with the Reuters Foundation (now Thomson Reuters Foundation) to study at Green College, Oxford, Monica moved to London to work on Woman’s Own.

“I loved my job as a features writer and the fast pace of London life. It was exciting, but I missed the North. I missed simple things like chatting to strangers on the bus, the proper fish and chips and, above all, the countryside and the coast.”

After two years in the big smoke, Monica moved back to Huddersfield and went freelance. And it was while she was on a job for a tabloid newspaper in 2007 that she visited Saltburn-by-the-Sea, in Cleveland, for the first time.

The Northern Echo:

“I was sent to write a story on the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum,” she says. “I needed to stay somewhere close to Skinningrove and I stumbled upon Saltburn. Until I arrived in the clifftop town, I didn’t even know it existed, but the scenery, the beach, the buildings, the whole place blew me away.

“The afternoon I arrived I had a few free hours before my interview so I went for a walk along the beach, past the pier, the funicular, and headed up the clifftop path,

part of the Cleveland Way. I was soon out of breath; it’s a steep climb up those steps, but the view was worth it.

“The North Sea stretches out as far as the eye can see, and as I watched the surfers bobbing on the waves and thought, ‘This would be a great place to set a book.’ I turned and saw the Coastguard Cottages, a line of houses facing the incoming sea breeze, and thought ‘My character could live here.’

“I carried on walking past the giant Charm Bracelet sculpture and as I stood and looked at the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a story started to take shape in my mind, the story of Brigid Raven, a story about a woman who had to lose her identity to find her true self.”

Monica revisited Saltburn several times for the book’s research, as well as Holy Island, in Northumberland. Often she stayed in the Jewels Streets in Saltburn and has placed many of the town’s local spots in the story.

However, it took Monica another eight years to finish The Winter’s Sleep and to find a home for her supernatural thriller. During this time, she had a number of rejections from publishers and agents, some of who felt the story was “too Northern”.

Monica says, “I grew up in the North. I live in the North. My debut novel was always going to have a Northern voice - anything else just wouldn’t have been authentic.

“My second novel The Ghost Child is set in Whitby. As the saying goes, write about what you know!”

  • The Winter’s Sleep by Monica Cafferky (Jasper Tree Press, £9.99) is out now. Visit Monica’s website at