I was 11 years old when I first realised I couldn't stand my family. My father, a lifelong smoker who had been running a successful engineering company, was dying of lung cancer. As his health faded, so the true facts of the business emerged. My brothers had been stripping the assets out of the company until there was nothing left. Huge loans had been taken out to cover the difference, and the whole thing imploded. After Dad died, the family home was seized by bailiffs and my mother and I ended up on a rough council estate.
I loved my Mum and was traumatised by the loss of Dad, but by the time I was fifteen I was heartily sick of my brothers. Even with the company gone, there were still all-out fist fights and brawls over money. They'd start up new companies, go bankrupt, then put them in their wives' names and start all over again. Time after time, they brought trouble to my mother's door and I hated them for it.
Then at 15, failing at school, I ended up in a dead-end relationship with a car thief who soon ended up in prison, and I thought: I'm going the same way as them. It had to stop. So at 17 I kissed goodbye to my mother and headed for London. All I knew was that I had to get out, get away.
London was a revelation. I was free of the family feuding at last, I made friends and saw a side of life that I had never encountered before. The nightclubs, cafes and knocking shops and the characters I met stuck in my brain and would later inspire my books - Dirty Game, my first number one Heatseeker, came about as a direct result of meeting a gangster type in the Windmill; that man was the face behind Max Carter, who went on to feature in six of my books, including my latest, Stay Dead.
When I left London, missing my Mum, and returned to Hampshire, I was back in the family trap again and once again desperate to get away. Marriage followed, and that was an escape. My husband and I distanced ourselves from the in-fighting of the family but it wasn't a happy marriage and we divorced in 2000.
I'd had lots of 'filler' jobs over the years - I'd sliced bacon in a deli, been a dental nurse and a clerical assistant, taught myself to type and graduated to secretary. But what I had always wanted to do was write. After the divorce, I took a new name, Jessie Keane, and started writing in earnest. Poor as a church mouse, I tapped away on the keyboard in an overcoat because I couldn't afford central heating.
Being distanced from my troublesome family was such a relief. Years passed and I wouldn't even have known my nephews and nieces if they had passed me in the street. Yes, it was sad, seeing other close families, their concern for each other, the casual chats, the family parties. I had never had any of that, and although that's a pity, I suppose what you've never had, you can't really miss.
Free at last, I sent Dirty Game out to six agents, and two came back. One asked me to do some rewrites, which I did. Then she said she had someone who 'might' be interested. Within a week, I'd had a meeting with a publisher and had signed a three-book deal for a six figure sum.
Would I have achieved writing success if I'd stayed connected to my family? Seriously, I doubt it. But I think maybe, with the benefit of hindsight, I do owe them a debt. Their bad behaviour comes out in my characters, all the time. The fights and arguments and occasional moments of viciousness all come from them. They were the spur that goaded me into breaking out, exploring, doing my own thing. Ultimately, that led to being a best-selling author. So I don't regret my past, harsh though it was, and difficult, and heartbreaking. It made me who I am, after all - and that's just fine with me.