The horrific attack that started top crime writer Mandasue's career
- Credit: Sandra Smith
Many crime writers’ first encounters with the world of crime happens on the page. For Mandasue Heller, that first experience was all too real. ‘When I was 22 while staying with my sister in Hulme Crescents, Manchester, an intruder broke in and attacked me with a claw hammer,’ she said. ‘For the next 20 years that incident controlled my life. Eventually it was something I had to write about to lessen and get rid of it.’
Now one of the country’s top crime novelists, Mandasue says writing helped liberate her from the memories of that horrific ordeal.
While bedridden and recovering from an operation to remove an eye tumour, she decided to use her convalescence period to tell her own story. Although this was not one she intended anyone else to read, the process of writing proved so enjoyable, it prompted her to begin her first novel.
‘After writing The Front I didn’t have a clue what to do next,’ she said. ‘My mum told me about a documentary featuring writers trying to get published. I looked up the publisher of one of those crime writers who was successful and sent it off to them. Meanwhile, I entered a script writing competition for Northern Writers, was shortlisted, got commissioned to write for The Bill and then had a phone call from Hodder and Stoughton. They wanted my book.’
Almost 20 years later, Mandasue’s 18th novel – the top 10 bestseller Witness – is out in paperback now. It’s a page turner of a thriller that is both gritty and compelling, featuring characters who range from troubled and flawed to tough and spirited.
She has produced a novel a year, but never plans the plots too carefully. ‘I never know what is going to come,’ she said. ‘I just know as I write, I’ll get to know my characters’ stories. If I plan before I’ve written, that limits me and I like to be able to change things. I let the characters dictate. Every one of them has a redeeming point and I love it when I get to the point when I know why everything is happening, that’s my “Yes” moment!’
A commitment to ongoing editing reduces the need for change once each manuscript is complete. This approach also means Mandasue is so close to her protagonists and their situations, ‘knowing them’ without having to rely on external notes. ‘I forget a lot of what happens in real life, but I remember my characters and their timelines,’ she said.
Now contracted to Pan Macmillan but working with her original editor, 58-year-old Mandasue added: ‘I’m not sure why people are attracted to something that is very harrowing but for me, I just like realism; I can’t deal with fantasy.
‘When I started nearly everyone else was writing from the police point of view but I like to write from the criminal’s viewpoint.’
To find out more about Mandasue and her novels, go online to mandasueheller.com