On family

FAMILY has always been at the heart of my writing.

When I was a teenager, my mum tried to foster the spirit of writing in me, by encouraging me to read books, starting with Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. I was immediately hooked, not only on her witty style but also on the characters in her eccentric family – both on paper and in real life.

Sadly, my mum didn’t live long enough to see me become a published author. It was the death of her sister, my aunt Pat, which finally made me realise that life is not a dress rehearsal and rather than dreaming of one day writing a book, I should just get on with it.

As is often the way, my first published book is not the first book I wrote but, true to form, it examines the role of a family. In this case, it is a notorious crime family – a brilliantly fascinating subject. Mad Frank and Sons tells the story of the gangster Mad Frankie Fraser and his two bank robber sons, David and Patrick, who together have spent almost 100 years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Discovering the whole truth about their clan meant hours of genealogical research into links with Canada, Native American Indian tribes and fur traders, as well as sifting through dozens of prison letters from Frank to his nearest and dearest.

All families have secrets and there were things which Frank would rather not have talked about – such as the way he cheated on his first wife and abandoned his young sons, when he got caught up in the role of being a gangster. The voices of the women in the Fraser family, who held everything together while Frank spent 42 years behind bars, were also heard for the first time, which gave a unique insight into how a crime family survives. Sisters, mothers and wives are the glue which binds it all together.

My debut novel, Mr Make Believe, is a romantic comedy about how easy it is to get caught up in the fantasy of what married life with kids should be, as opposed to the warts-and-all reality. The book deals with the struggles of hapless mother-of-two Marnie, who gets seduced by her daydreams about a movie star when her marriage goes off the rails. By starting a blog about her failed life, her self-esteem and her career take off in ways she could only dream about but Marnie must then choose whether true love is real or just a fantasy. I’m so excited that Mr Make Believe will be published by Ipso Books later this year.

The lives of three sisters in the poverty-stricken backstreets of 1930s London provided the inspiration for my next book, the Lambeth Girls, to be published by PanMacmillan in Spring 2017. The memoir is drawn from the true story of one family growing up beside the River Thames. Although they are sisters, their outlook on life is very different, leading them to face their own challenges. The bond of sisterhood stays strong throughout the social and political upheaval in the run up to the Second World War and beyond, as they learn that blood is thicker than water.