I’ve been a writer for as long as I remember. On rainy days, when it was too wet to play outside, my mother would ask me to write her a story. I still have it somewhere, that little book of stories.
I wrote my first novel when I was ten. Like many ten-year-old girls, I was obsessed by horses – and so that’s what I wrote about, filling ten Basildon Bond writing pads with my masterpiece. It was also when I had my first rejection – I couldn’t persuade anyone to read it.
A few years on, Victorian London and the story of Jack the Ripper absorbed me. In my young mind he was a fascinating figure; a toff I imagined, in a top hat and swirling cape who prowled the unlit alleys of East End, frightening everyone witless. Knowledge of the savagery of his crimes was something I learnt much later. When I was twelve, I visited the library asking if they had any books about him. The librarian gave me a quizzical look and said no, but perhaps sensing my disappointment, told me she had another book I might be interested in. I was led to a room with a locked door and while I waited, my mind fizzed with fevered speculation; exactly what kind of book needed to be locked up in a separate room? I was soon to find out. When the Liberian emerged, she handed me a book called 10 Rillington Place by Ludovic Kennedy. Strong stuff for a twelve-year-old. My mother blanched when I arrived home with it, but it was I guess, my first shocking initiation into the mind of a serial killer.
After that first early attempt, it took me quite a few years to begin another novel, thirty-four to be exact, but in between, I wrote and had published numerous short stories for leading newspapers and women’s magazines.
The fact that something nasty always seemed to happen in them made my choice of genre easy. Stephen King would argue that it’s the genre that chooses you, not the other way around.
For seven years I worked as a freelance journalist, interviewing people who had experienced something extraordinary and sometimes something terrifying. Like the young guy who survived a gay serial killer by jumping from a third floor window and the female doctor who was stalked for eleven years by her lesbian patient. So, gentle reader, terrible things really do happen in real life and all that crime fiction does is echo the atrocities that fill our newspapers every day. The only difference is that in crime novels the perpetrators always get punished.