What inspired you to write crime set in Turkey?

I’ve always been a crime fiction fan. But when I wanted to read something set in a country I’d been going to all my life, I couldn’t find anything at the time (1990s) except the 1950s espionage novels of Eric Ambler. And so, first of all as a way of relaxing after my stressful job in a psychiatric hospital, I decided to write my own. Never thought it would get published.

What can you tell us about your Turkish crime books to tempt us to read them?

Well, first of all there are the locations. Istanbul, the golden city on the Bosphorus with its Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican heritage. Vast and always on the move the city exists in so many time frames, even now, it makes your head spin. Then there are my characters – Cetin Ikmen, grumpy, middle-aged, loving husband and father and insightful son of an Albanian witch. Mehmet Suleyman, his protege, the handsome scion of an old Ottoman family, if his professional life isn’t convoluted enough, his love life makes up for it. In Istanbul’s mean streets they encounter dealers in human flesh, political and religious zealots, the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know. Plus contacts in the oldest and most venerable Roma community in Europe. And then there are the magicians…

How about your other series? What makes that brilliant?

Thanks for saying it’s brilliant! Yes, well the Hakim and Arnold series is set in modern East London, specifically in Upton Park. It centres around a private detective agency run by an ex-copper called Lee Arnold and his psychology graduate assistant, Mumtaz Hakim. Reflecting, in part, some of the ethnic make-up of the area, Lee is a white East End geezer while Mumtaz is a young Muslim widow, trying to create a decent life for herself and her young step-daughter. The series tackles many of the issues that dog the modern East End today including human trafficking, gentrification, the rise of the Far Right and radicalisation. There’s also a cross-cultural ‘will they/won’t they’ aspect of Lee and Mumtaz’s relationship too. Oh and gangsters. Always gangsters.

How hard was it to get your first book published?

It was hard. Turkey was not somewhere people went that much back in the 1990s and Turkish police were considered terrifying. I finally did get published in 1999 but it was tough as I knew no-one in the business, didn’t understand how publishing worked and felt really stupid for much of the time. Things are different now, but I do know that for lots of working class writers like me, actually getting to know your way around publishing has been a long road.

How many publishers turned you down?

I can’t remember now but a lot. Things didn’t change for me until I got my agent, Juliet Burton.

Do you try and read the on-line reviews you get on say Waterstones website?

Sometimes, although I have to say I do tend not to read Amazon reviews that often. I think it’s all to easy to get into a downward spiral of despair if you read too many negative reviews. People are of course entitled to their opinions but some of it can be openly destructive, which is not what I think reviewing should be about. I also don’t think it should just be a pean of praise either!

Would you ever consider writing for children or teens?

Absolutely! I have written one for my grandson (unpublished) which is a series of legends set in London. These are obscure stories about girls who live in the sewers and can turn into rats, about hidden underground boroughs and about a London cat who goes to Siam and becomes a magician.

What did you do before becoming a writer?

I worked in psychiatric hospitals and in the community with people with mental health problems. I wrote and did that for many years until I got my second crime series. Prior to that I worked in a conference centre, I taught psychology (in which I have a degree) for a few years. I’ve also acted, been a barmaid, worked in a women’s refuge and cleaned other people’s houses. Oh and I’ve told fortunes. Most of all I’ve been and continue to be, a mum.

Which author inspires you?

Hard to pick just one, there are so many. But at the moment the one I find most inspirational is Kerry Hudson who wrote ‘Lowborn’ about growing up in poverty. I’ve met Kerry and she’s wonderful and tells it for all of us who haven’t had the courage to write our stories – yet.

Which genres do you read yourself?

Everything except hard science fiction.

What is your biggest motivator?

Probably fear.

What will always distract you?

Anything with chocolate on it and my two cats.

How much say do you have in your book covers?

Not a great deal. I do get the final say but sometimes I do feel as if I’d like to do something a bit different.

As a child were you a great reader?

Yes. I went to the local library all the time to get new books. I could not and still can’t sleep until I’ve read for at least half an hour.

Which book shop is your favourite?

The Newham Bookshop in Plaistow, E13. Wonderful knowledgeable staff and it’s a little bit magical too.

What can you not resist buying?

Religious tat. The cheaper and more gaudy the better.

Do you have any rituals on writing days?

Almost every day is a writing day for me, so not really, Copious swearing maybe.

How many books on your to be read pile?


What is your current read?

‘Experiencing the Impossible – The Science of Magic’ by Gustav Kuhn.

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