Imagine a six-year-old, stick-thin girl, who lived in an ugly chemical town in Lancashire where there were few green spaces, moving to the Suffolk coast, where her house was close to the beach and marshes, and woods and fields were a short walk away.
It was another world which I quickly grew to love. I taught myself to swim in the North Sea, my feet were hardened by the pebble beaches, skin browned by the fitful sun, and a deep interest in nature fed by the plants and animals of the marshes, seabirds and the life of the sea shore. I had my own patch of garden, made a pond from a biscuit tin and grew snapdragons, pansies and wallflowers. There was a dog called Ross, who I adored, and we had many adventures together.
My bookworm tendencies were nurtured by a wonderful children’s section in the town’s library, and I went into a book shop by myself for the first time with a token I’d won in a Sunday School race. I can see the book I chose: The Plants and Animals of Freshwater. I treasured it.
I was twelve years old when I was told we had to leave Suffolk and we would be going back to Lancashire. I was devastated. Most of our possessions, and all of my toys, were sold in a local auction, and my precious Freshwater book was lost in the move.
I determined one day I would return to Suffolk.
When I was fifteen, we went back for a holiday and I went into Woolworths on my own and asked for a summer job, as I’d experience working in my local Woolworths on Saturdays on the sweet counter. Amazingly the manager decided he’d employ me! I announced I would not be returning to Lancashire until the end of the summer. Reluctantly, my mother found me digs with a local family. Fifteen and free.
Every summer holiday after that I returned to Suffolk, twice as a waitress, and once as a cook in a hotel. I must have had bottles full of gall, as I knew nothing about cooking as my mother kept me out of the kitchen. Luckily the owner’s wife, who was also the chef, was a kind woman, and although I was useless to begin with, I was a hard worker and a quick learner. From that experience came my love of cooking – and food. I was still stick-like, but with a few interesting curves!
Skip a few decades: university (zoology of course), marriage, teaching and from 1970 an annual return to Suffolk; first in a Dormobile, then a caravan, and finally a motorhome. Always based in the same area: around Dunwich, Eastbridge and Minsmere, with regular visits to Aldeburgh, Orford and other small towns. The holidays were spent walking accompanied by a series of Labradors who all enjoyed the shore, heaths and woodlands. For self-caterers there is wonderful local food: oysters, Dover Sole, wild sea-bass, smoked fish, asparagus, strawberries, and Adnams beer to wash it all down. I was no longer stick-thin!
When I decided to write a crime series, I chose to base my detectives in this area. Why? Pure self-indulgence. It meant I would be there with them in a place I loved and knew. So far, despite the base of the Anglian Detective Agency being in Dorothy Piff’s Tudor house in Dunwich, the agency has been successful in attracting clients and have gained a reputation for solving some complicated and dangerous crimes.
If you haven’t been to Suffolk why not visit this wonderful county. Go to Orford, and take a short boat trip to Orford Ness, a mysterious spit of land, which plays a major part in The Loophole; next should be Aldeburgh, a town made famous by Benjamin Britten, and the scene of several grisly murders in The Temptation. Finish at Dunwich, the remains of a mediaeval city, with its sandy crumbling cliffs, where Blackfriars School was the setting for the first Anglian Detective Agency book, Some Particular Evil. Don’t forget to visit Minsmere Bird Reserve – it plays a major role in the book I’m writing at the moment: The Ship of Death.
I enjoy returning to coastal Suffolk – in reality and in my mind.