Lynda La Plante: True sto­ries from my life of crime

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - PEOPLE -

Best­selling crime writer Lynda La Plante talks to Ju­lia Molony about her rookie days mix­ing with gang­sters, her long road to mother­hood and the adop­tion of her son


THERE are two enor­mous stone lions guard­ing the door of Lynda La Plante’s fin de siecle man­sion, which is tucked at the end of a wooded drive in leafy Sur­rey. Be­hind them stands the lady of the manor, her trusty as­sis­tant Nigel by her side.

Though slight, there is some­thing of the big cat about Lynda her­self: her eyes are a clear, crys­tal blue and her mane of hair is tiger-striped in rus­set and blonde. But though Nigel is all smiles, Lynda’s greet­ing is a lit­tle stiff to­day. She’s not un­friendly, quite the con­trary. But she is wear­ing a warm­ing pad around her neck and is, she says in sub­stan­tial pain. An old in­jury, one she believes is the re­sult of the countless hours she’s spent bent over a key­board through­out her life, has been play­ing up lately, and she hasn’t got the pre­scrip­tion for the heavy-duty painkillers yet.

Some­one of a more del­i­cate con­sti­tu­tion might have called off the in­ter­view, but Lynda is a trooper. She leads me through the ex­pan­sive en­trance hall with its grand stair­case, into a sit­ting room, dec­o­rated in pe­riod style, where a stuffed-an­te­lope’s head stares down from above a cav­ernous stone fire­place. Fac­ing us, two built-in book­cases tell the story of her ca­reer — var­i­ous edi­tions of her nov­els are on dis­play along­side her three Baf­tas in pride of place on her wall of awards.

La Plante’s long ca­reer as the UK’S first lady of crime fic­tion spans four decades. She started writ­ing as a young ac­tress re­cently out of RADA in a bid to se­cure meatier, more com­plex roles for her­self. Her first ef­fort — a TV script called Wid­ows — was in­spired by a true sto­ries of a group of Lon­don women ini­ti­ated into crime when their hus­bands are killed dur­ing a botched raid. It be­came a cult hit of the 1980s and an in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, but to date, she’s prob­a­bly still best known as the cre­ator of Prime Sus­pect, the ITV po­lice pro­ce­dural drama she in­vented in 1991 which stars He­len Mir­ren and has been a smash hit all over the world.

She never, she says to­day, had any “burn­ing am­bi­tion” ei­ther to be a writer or an ac­tress. She’s al­ways been led by cu­rios­ity and a com­pul­sive in­ter­est in the imag­i­nary worlds she cre­ates. Yet she ad­mits that she’s driven none­the­less, “I think I’m like a lit­tle tsunami,” she says. “Be­cause you can have one mon­ster hit, but to have two, that is very odd.” She must be de­ter­mined, she says, be­cause “in be­tween the writ­ing of Wid­ows and do­ing Prime Sus­pect there were a lot of re­jec­tions.

Now, 35 years af­ter Wid­ows first aired, a rather sat­is­fy­ing twist has brought La Plante back to her roots. It has been adapted into a fea­ture film by the Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Steve Mcqueen, ( 12 Years A Slave) and La Plante is ev­i­dently thrilled about it. He ap­proached her at a func­tion at Buck­ing­ham Palace and con­fessed he’d been “ob­sessed” with the se­ries as a teenager and was de­ter­mined to re­make it as a film set in mod­ern day Chicago. With the new ver­sion of the story, penned by Mcqueen and Gil­lian Flynn (the writer of Gone Girl) set to hit screens in Novem­ber, La Plante has re­vised and re­pub­lished the novel of Wid­ows, which she wrote in a flurry af­ter the re­lease of the orig­i­nal TV se­ries.

It’s come at a good time, af­ter a tur­bu­lent few years pro­fes­sion­ally speak­ing. In 2016, she walked off the mak­ing of a pre­quel of Prime Sus­pect, fo­cus­ing on a rookie Jane Ten­ni­son af­ter ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences with ITV.

“It was very de­press­ing and very stress­ful,” she says now. “Be­cause I’d never ever con­fronted it be­fore. I’d never ever come across such abu­sive be­hav­iour. Ev­ery di­rec­tor I sug­gested was turned down, ev­ery ac­tress was turned down, ev­ery ac­tor... ev­ery­body was turned down.”

She still smart­ing about the dis­dain with which she feels she was treated, so the much more sat­is­fy­ing process of work­ing with one of Bri­tain’s most feted di­rec­tors has gone some way to salv­ing her in­jured pride. “It’s a sort of rasp­berry to the ITV peo­ple.”

Lynda La Plante, now 75 years of age, spent her early life in Liver­pool. Her fam­ily weren’t in the least bit luvvy­ish. “I don’t think my fa­ther had ever been to the theatre” she says. Though they did send her to elo­cu­tion lessons (she still speaks with the crisp, Noel Coward-es­que dic­tion she learned there), and it was her elo­cu­tion teacher who sug­gested she take the en­trance ex­ams for the Royal Academy of Dra­matic Art. “I’d never heard of RADA be­fore, I told my fa­ther and he thought it was a pub. I was only 16, it was very young to get into the royal academy. But my elo­cu­tion teacher in my school had said ‘you bet­ter put you’re 18, dar­ling. They won’t let you in’.”

Her fam­ily, who pre­ferred watch­ing sport to crime, were, and have re­mained pretty in­dif­fer­ent to what she was get­ting up to. “I have nephews who have never read a book,” she says. “My mother said to me once, did you re­ally write Prime Sus­pect? All of it? Well, I’ve only watched a lit­tle bit . . .’ No in­ter­est in it. My brother used to say, Are you go­ing to write a com­edy? I can’t watch all this crime.”

She bats away the sug­ges­tion that their dis­in­ter­est might have hurt her

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