I can still remember the day I learned to read, when I was four. I adored being read to, and everyone was too busy. I was sitting with my book, puzzling and puzzling, and quite suddenly, it happened. It was like being at the opticians, when the right lens is put in and everything comes into focus. It was the word ‘the’ I was looking at, and then I realised I could understand the other words as well. I started shrieking so loudly, my mother came rushing in, thinking I was ill. After that, books were my passion.
Before I could do joined-up writing, I started my first novel. The Adventure of Mr Wiz and Mrs Woz, was penned – or rather, pencilled, when I was six on sheets of notepaper folded over and stitched together with yellow thread.
I grew up in the fishing village of Anstruther, on the east coast of Scotland not far from St Andrews. The memories of beautiful scenery and a close community inspired me to set the Marjory Fleming series in a place very like that – rural Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland..
I went on to Cambridge University to read English – three wonderful years when I couldn’t believe my luck that it was myduty to read books all day. And it still left a lot of time for the social life a girl could have in the days when we were in a 10-1 minority…
It seemed natural to want to share my love of literature, so I taught for a few years. Then came marriage to Ian and two children, Philip and Clare and three memorable dogs, most recently the greatly-mourned Lucy, a wonderful Dalmatian who always kept me company while I wrote. Now we live in Edinburgh in a house with a balcony built by an astronomer to observe the stars, with a splendid view of the castle and the beautiful city skyline. I have grandchildren living in Kent now, so I seize every excuse for a trip south.
While the kids were growing was when I learned my trade, with freelance articles and stories for newspapers and magazines, some radio and TV work. And, of course, I was working on The First Book.
Why crime? Sometimes it seems strange to dwell on the darker, bleaker side of life, when my personal pleasures come from laughter and the love of family and friends. But it seemed natural to write what I enjoyed reading, and still when I’m writing a book to some extent I’m telling the story to myself as well. I enjoy constructing the puzzle, but that isn’t my starting point, because my plots spring from character. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology – what makes people do what they do, what the secret stories are that lie beneath the surface. There is a very dark side to human nature which we all have to some degree, but we’re also good at not showing it. A shocking event, like murder, strips away the mask and it intrigues me to see what happens then. It brings out evil and ugliness, but there’s still idealism and integrity and warmth and affection too.
The other great joy about writing crime is that we’re in this together. You, the reader, are in the room with me all the time. When I’ve written a crucial scene, I ask myself, ‘What will the reader take out of this?’ because you’re a clever lot and you will guess there’s a clue in there somewhere. So then I rewrite it again, and again, until I reckon that the clue you pick up won’t be the one you need to crack the mystery – though it’s there, I promise! I don’t cheat.