I was born and brought up in North Devon, where my dad was a butcher and ran a tea shop.
At the age of eight I knew I wanted to be a journalist, specifically for the Daily Mirror,
brought into a Daily Express reading family by my grandfather, a great racing man who reckoned
it was the best paper for the horses. The Mirror was of course widely considered to be the
country's finest campaigning newspaper back then, and I certainly thought that it was truly
wonderful - even though, much to my fury, my granddad was inclined to play censor and cut
out the bits he thought I shouldn't read. However, in between the ragged holes, I discovered
the columns of Cassandra, the unique investigative reports of John Pilger, and the big
name interviews of legendary showbiz writer Donald Zec. I still remember how I felt.
I was captivated. From that moment, and whilst I also harboured an early desire to
one day become a writer capable of producing a novel, there was never any doubt about
what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.
It was not all plain sailing. Miss Edwards, known unaffectionately as Ted, my diminutive
English teacher at Bideford's strictly Methodist Edgehill College, the direct grant school
where I was a grammar school pupil, was distinctly unimpressed.
'Well, at least you're tall, girl,' she remarked. 'You'll be able to look over people's heads.'
Undeterred, I stuck to my guns. Though I must admit that I was probably even more
astonished than the dreaded Ted when, as a17-year-old school-leaver, I managed to l
and a place on the newly launched Daily Mirror Training Scheme. And although Miss E
had doubtless meant the remark most unkindly, found later that being nearly 6ft tall
was indeed extremely useful if embroiled in a media scrum.
When I began, Fleet Street was, of course, very nearly respectable. Hacking, was
something you did on horseback. And the term tabloid was not well know in the UK
except within the press itself, and then used according to its correct definition,
a newspaper of half size.
I started as a general news reporter. They were heady years. I really did turn
up at the office every morning not knowing where I would end up that evening.
Aged just 23 I was sent to Greece to find Zorba the Greek composer Mikos Theodorakis
after The Greek Colonels were overthrown. During their regime he had been jailed
and his music banned. When I arrived in Athens his music was being played everywhere.
I tracked down Theodorakis who gave me a splendid interview and the piece duly
appeared in my newspaper as a centre page spread - it was an example of what I
was always taught tabloid journalism should be about, taking a complex story of
immense importance and representing it in an instantly accessible way. The newspaper
was The Sun. Yes, the Sun. Hard to imagine such an assignment being given to one of its reporters nowadays.
I went on to specialise as a showbusiness journalist, becoming Showbusiness Editor
of three national newspapers including The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Mirror, the
paper I'd dreamed of working for, and assistant editor of one.
It was only when I was about to leave the Daily Mirror, my last staff job in
newspapers, in 1993 that I realised my other dream.
Turning out at home one day I found at the back of a cupboard a messy couple of
chapters and a rough outline for a book which was to become my first novel,
The Cruelty of Morning.
I had started it some twenty years previously
while holidaying at a friend's mountain home in Austria. Every day for a week
I sat outside at a garden table in the sunshine tapping away on my little
Olivetti typewriter. Then I forgot all about it for two decades.
The Cruelty of Morning
was accepted by Heinemann early in
1994 and published the following year. It combined murder with rather large
helpings of raunchy sex, and proved curiously, I always thought, quite
controversial. After all, the vast majority of murders committed in the UK
are linked in some way with sex, and/or the emotional traumas of close personal
relationships. But crime fiction had a rather cosier image back them.
My latest novel, The Cruellest Game
, published by Pan Macmillan, is a
psychological thriller inspired, like most of my books, by a real life
event reported in the press. It focuses on the violent destruction of
a seemingly perfect family when it is revealed that one of the family
members has been hiding a devastating secret and indeed living a lie for many years.
The book is largely set on Dartmoor, and, as ever, my research was completed
first hand, walking the moors, talking to local people, police contacts, a
pathologist, representatives of the local coroners' office, doctors, lawyers, and others.
Looking back at my earlier books, No Reason to Die
was probably the most
controversial, inspired by the notorious series of unexplained deaths at
Deepcut Barracks and elsewhere within the British Army. The families of
several of the dead soldiers kindly placed their trust in me and worked
with me in order to produce a complex conspiracy theory which, while
presented as fiction, spme of them believed might have come uncannily
close to the truth. The Times described me as 'keeping on the public
agenda the stories our masters would prefer buried.' As an old Mirror
hand I was deeply flattered.
When The Dead Cry Out
drew on my own real life experience of living next
door to a murderer. Its inspiration is the case of John Allen, my friend
and neighbour during the 1980s, who in 2003 was found guilty of the murder
of his wife and two children 27 years previously.
I have just completed a second new novel, to be published next year. Instead
of being set in primarily a West Country location, like almost all of my
previous books, Friends To Die For
is based in the Covent Garden area of
London, which I have come to know almost as well and love almost as much
as the west of England. And I think it is the location that has probably
given this book a rather more hard boiled flavour - but then, that's how
things are in a capital city, I reckon.
I share my life with my partner, the actress Amanda Barrie, and, with our
little brown dog Coco, a cross between a poodle and a patterdale terrier.
We divide our time between my house in rural Somerset and her flat at the heart of Covent Garden.