Essex crime writer Martina Cole on her long-awaited latest novel
- Credit: Archant
The UK’s biggest best-selling female crime writer, Martina Cole talks to Holly Louise Eells about her long-awaited latest crime novel, the achievements of this Essex girl and the importance of reading
There is no one like Martina Cole. Fact. The Essex-born author boasts more number one original fiction bestsellers than any other author.
And, with much anticipation, the writing phenomenon will be releasing her latest crime novel this month, entitled No Mercy.
Expect nothing other than a heart-stopping rollercoaster ride of a read with a gangster underworld twist. Martina reveals: 'No Mercy is mainly focused around Puerto Banus in Marbella, when the drugs, guns and crime scene started up there during the 1980s.
'The book is about Diana Davis who has been head of the family business since the death of her husband, an infamous bank robber. She's a woman in a man's world, but no one messes with her.
Her only son, Angus, is a natural born villain, but he needs to earn Diana's trust before she'll allow him into the business. Once he's proved he has the brains to run their clubs in Marbella, he is given what he's always wanted,' Martina continues.
'It's the beginning of a reign of terror that knows no bounds. But Angus has a blind spot: his wife, Lorna, and their three kids, Angus Junior, Sean and Eilish. As the next generation enters the business, Angus has a painful truth to learn. Even when it comes to family, he must show no mercy.'
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This latest release is another landmark in 2019 that has been a year of accolades and milestones for the renowned writer, which has also included writing a feature film and turning 60 earlier this year.
'There is still life in the old dog yet!' she laughs. 'It was a fantastic birthday. It really was a good one, but it was weird turning this age.
'30 really bothered me, 40 didn't bother me, 50 didn't bother me and now I've hit 60 - I was like, how did that happen. One of my grandsons is only eight and I told him nanny is 32. He believed me, but now he is good at maths and he's worked out nanny can't be younger than daddy!'
The devoted grandmother and mother admits her family life is just as mad - like her books. 'I am probably the only granny like this. My youngest daughter was born an aunt, she is 21-years-old and my eldest grandson is 22. They get on so well, they are like brothers and sisters.'
Martina was born and brought up in Aveley, the youngest of five children in a large, poor, Irish Catholic family.
She attended a convent school where her struggle against authority started — it culminated in two exclusions. However, the one subject she loved was English and it was her English teacher who told her, if she put her mind to it, she had a future in writing.
Nevertheless, the road to success was not an easy one for the crime writer. Martina finished school at 15 with no qualifications; she then married at 16 and divorced a year later. At the age of 18 she was a single mum, living in a run-down council flat, struggling to bring up her son, Chris.
She regularly took on numerous jobs at a time: from waitressing in pubs and clubs to putting leaflets into the local paper during the night, often accompanied by her son.
Anything to bring in enough money to take care of them both. With little or no money, after she had put her son to bed, she would write to keep herself entertained.
'I feel very lucky to be where I am today, because I am doing something I love. In the past, I had so many jobs that I hated, just to pay the bills. I think if you have the opportunity to do a job that you really have a true passion for and get well paid for it, it is definitely a bonus.
'My dad used to say to me, "You get one life, it is not a dress rehearsal. See that oak tree in our garden, it was here before you and it will be here after you have gone. Blink of an eye in the world. Do something, make something of yourself,"' she says.
At the age of 21 Martina lost both her parents within six months of each other, a difficult time in her life. Later that year, she started working on the manuscript of what would become her iconic debut novel, Dangerous Lady.
For almost a decade though, she didn't do anything with it. She daydreamed about being a successful author, but didn't have the confidence to act on it.
When she was 30 she decided to devote herself seriously to writing a full-length novel. She gave up her job running a nursing agency, bought an electric typewriter and decided she would 'give it a year'. She dug out the manuscript of Dangerous Lady and completed it in 18 months.
'I was going to be this one-book wonder and I was dismissed as this Essex girl, but I'm still here all these years later and the books are still selling.
To be honest, it annoys me how people talk about Essex women. Statistically more Essex women pass exams compared to anywhere else in the country. I don't think people should be laughing about them too much,' she adds.
Reading is a huge part of Martina's life and she is an ambassador for The Reading Agency's Reading Ahead programme, which works to inspire and encourage less confident readers to develop an enjoyment of reading at the same time as improving their literacy skills.
'Reading is so important,' she affirms. 'I can easily read four to five books a week when I am not writing. When I am in my home in Northern Cyprus, I could read a book a day, easily. If I go into any bookshop, I have to read the first page to make sure I haven't read the book before.'
Martina also regularly visits prisons (her books are routinely the most borrowed in prison libraries), workplaces and public libraries across the country.
'It's shocking how many people across the UK, and in prisons in particular, can't write their own name,' she says. 'Books, reading and education in prisons can be a way out of that life. They are banged up, but you shouldn't send a person out of prison worse than the one you sent in.'
She continues: 'My argument is, a lot of people that go to prison have not had a good education. A lot of them can't read very well, especially the men, and for me it is heart breaking.
If you can't read and write properly you can't fill out a job application, some people forget that. I always say the same thing to them. The one thing you have got is time, so use this time and do something with it.
Personally, I think that is the best advice you can give anyone in that position.
'We all have set backs. Sometimes something good comes out of something bad, then you can move on.
'I think some people spend their whole lives thinking this has happened to me and that has happened, but terrible things happen to many of us at different times. It is how you deal with it.'
Find out more
Martina's new book, No Mercy, is available from October 17. For more information on her latest crime novel and book signing events, visit martinacole.co.uk