What does international bestseller Lynda La Plante love most about Surrey?
- Credit: Archant
The author tells Surrey Life about living in the county and reveals more about her latest books, Blunt Force and Buried
As the old cliche goes you can take the girl out of Liverpool, but even if she’s living in Surrey you can’t take Liverpool out of the girl.
Lynda La Plante may now call Kingston Hill home, but she is still a proud Scouser and she speaks to Surrey Life fresh from a chat with a Loose Women researcher about her old friend Cilla Black. “Liverpool people have a certain sense of humour,” she says. “You only need to get two people from Liverpool together and we are off.”
That humour comes across both in conversation - where she fires off stories and jokes every few minutes - and within her novels, albeit of a darker black variety.
Her latest, Blunt Force, is a new instalment in her Young Tennison series, which follows her Prime Suspect protagonist through her formative years in the Metropolitan Police. She says Blunt Force was a particular joy to write, as it drew on her own showbusiness experience. “I didn’t have to do hours of research,” she says. “I know that world so well.”
In the book Jane has just been side-lined from her previous post with the Flying Squad following a botched raid. Now DS Tennison is writing reports on petty theft at a sleepy Knightsbridge station - until the brutal murder of a showbiz agent lands in her lap.
The Young Tennison series came from fans asking her about Jane’s early years, and how she became the tough character depicted in Prime Suspect. “I’ve had such a ball taking her back into uniform,” says Lynda, who is planning three more Young Tennison books. “In each book she’s moving forward and learning by her mistakes.”
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It was an LA detective she met while doing a television series that inspired Lynda to write Blunt Force. “He was a wonderful guy, but he was saying he’d got a terrible case,” says Lynda. “It was the murder of a famous actor - but he said the major problem was his tiny team weren’t used to dealing with actors and movie stars. They were the worst group of people he had ever had to interview.
“The more I listened to him the more I realised that actors are very good at lying and doing a performance. It would be hard to get to the truth - and to get to them he was having to go through agents.”
She also drew on her own experiences as an actor (Lynda trained at RADA alongside Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt, and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company before beginning her writing career) as well as methods other actors employ to get auditions.
She tells the story of one actor friend who was up for a fantastic part but needed to be able to ride a horse. “I told him, say you’ve been riding since you were seven,” she says. “If you get the part then take some riding lessons. One week later I met him and his foot was in plaster. He’d got the part and booked in a riding lesson, but then a horse had come out and trodden on his foot!”
From page to screen
Although Lynda used to run her own television production company, which was behind ITV hits The Governor and Trial and Retribution among others, she is now at the mercy of the TV networks - particularly when it comes to pitching her latest series, based on her Lorraine Page novels, to the US.
With potentially 150 episodes to produce once the initial series, Cold Shoulder, begins, other show writers are now involved, which has thrown up problems. “One writer said she loved the character Jack Lubrinski, but he should be called Joe and should be a leading character,” says Lynda. “I pointed out that he died in the first chapter - in what is a very emotional moment for the female officer as he’s her partner.”
She enjoys the sense of control writing a novel can give - although there are drawbacks. “They are very different genres,” she says. “On TV you have to bring it all to the front and move at a much faster pace. The process of the novel is all mine - you live with the characters for a year, and then there’s the moment when you hand it over. The reality is you are only as good as your last book.”
Although her home on Kingston Hill looks out over Richmond Park, she rarely gets to enjoy the view, spending hours holed up staring at a computer screen. She has had her own Misery moment though, when doing a book signing in Liverpool for her latest Lorraine Page novel. “This woman pushed her way through the queue and said: ‘I want to talk to you - you’ve gone and killed off my favourite character! I’ve followed her through three books and you’ve killed her!’”
Lynda’s prolific writing rate has increased during lockdown - she is currently working on a new Anna Travis novel with plans to pen the follow-up to Buried featuring new lead character Jack Warr.
Characters from Lynda’s first TV success Widows, the story of a group of bereaved women who decide to complete their dead husbands’ final blag, also made an appearance in Buried, which was released in April.
DC Jack Warr was something of a departure for Lynda. “I wanted to write a detective who didn’t have a drug or alcohol problem, tortured marriage or was divorced,” says Lynda. “I wanted someone who was so likeable that you could go on a journey with them. Jack makes me laugh - he’s never in the right place at the right time, and he’s very modern, his left hand is his mobile phone.”
Buried is earmarked for a TV series, although coronavirus has put a stop on immediate plans.
Promoting the books in the current climate is a challenge, but Lynda has taken to Zoom interviews and reaching out to fans via Facebook. She also has her own podcast, Listening to the Dead, where she interviews some of her forensic science contacts.
It is quite a contrast to Jane Tennison’s early days - a time before DNA testing and mobile phone records. “I’ve had to find police officers that worked through the 1970s and 1980s,” she says. “You’re looking back to a day when fingerprint matches were made using a magnifying glass.”
She does get frustrated with other crime writing - where toxicology reports get produced in a matter of hours. “When I’m reading a crime novel I often notice they lose it three-quarters of the way through,” she says. “They shove in a suspect you’ve not met before. The reader likes to be ahead of the writer - they like to go: ‘I know who did this’. You have to build carefully.
“You might think everything has been done, but if you watch true crime programmes on TV you can’t believe it. People will go to amazing lengths now to commit crimes.”
- Buried is out now in paperback, eBook and audio through Zaffre Books, RRP £8.99. Blunt Force, the latest Young Tennison thriller, is out now in hardback through Zaffre Books, RRP £18.99
Lynda’s favourite Surrey
Favourite walk: I’ve always wanted to live and had to live near a park. I’m so fortunate - one minute from me is Richmond Park. It is the most idyllic place. When you go down there early in the morning you hardly see a soul.
Evening out: The Rose Theatre is a wonderful venue in the centre of Kingston. I don’t think it gets enough attention. Because of the financial strictures at the moment I don’t know if it can keep running - but I hope so.
Family day out: I love renting boats out and going up and down to Hampton Court. It’s wonderful having the river on your doorstep. There are so many great restaurants by the river.
Shopping: Kingston is an amazing place - with the shopping available you don’t have to go into the West End.