I write thrillers as L.A. Larkin and mysteries as Louisa Bennet. To create enthralling and well-rounded characters, I like to interview people who have the skills that I want my characters to have. I like to learn about their lives: what makes them tick.
The people I interview are generally not famous. In fact, they prefer to be anonymous. They quietly go about their jobs and, in so doing, make an incredible difference to our lives. Here are some of the most inspiring people I have met as an author...
The FBI Special Agent
My meeting with a female FBI special agent was one of the most moving moments in my life. I had no idea what to expect. In truth, I was nervous. I came away in awe. I write novels about fictional heroes. She was the real deal.
What really touched my heart were her personal stories. When she talked about the child crimes she had to deal with, it was all I could do not to cry. She moved on quickly to lighter topics.
As a recruit to the FBI, she found it difficult to meet potential boyfriends. “As soon as I told them what I did as a job, they ran for the hills,” she joked. Now married with kids, protecting her family is a number one priority. Thanks to her willingness to share stories about her life, I have written two thrillers with FBI agents in them, including my latest novel, The Safe Place.
Have you ever tried to find a hacker willing to tell you what they do? It’s not easy, I can tell you. And you may be surprised that a hacker is on my list of inspiring people. But hear me out.
I was writing a novel in which a hacker plays a key supporting role to the main character. One evening, I was at a Pilates class and I threw out a general question, “Anyone happen to know a hacker?” To my surprise, the lady next to me said yes. It turns out that there are black hat hackers, who hack systems illegally, and then there are white hat hackers who protect the systems from malicious attacks. The guy I was to meet was a white hat hacker. He took me with him to a hackers’ convention – yes, they do have them!
He told me that there are generally three types of people who attend hackers’ conventions: cyber security experts, malicious hackers, and undercover cops. He pointed to a scruffy guy in the standard hacker’s dress code of black T and jeans. “He’s a cop,” my companion said. “How do you know?” I asked. “He’s too tanned. If he was a hacker, he would be as pale as the rest of us.”
Every time I do an online bank transaction or think about the military weapons that are computer controlled, I say a silent thank you to the cyber security people who keep us, our identities, and our money, safe.
The antarctic glaciologist
I feel very privileged to have spent time in both the Antarctic and the Arctic. In the Antarctic, I met a glaciologist who had been stationed there over twenty times. He knew everything there was to know about ice shelves, life in a research station, and survival in the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on earth (Antarctica is drier than the Sahara Desert) Life on a station can drive people crazy: your nearest neighbour might be thousands of miles away; there is six months of permanent darkness; and once the last ship or plane leaves for the winter, you cannot escape.
The scientists who work there do so because Antarctica’s ecosystem is critical to the wellbeing of our planet and the global climate. Having seen how tirelessly and meticulously they accrue the data, I have huge respect for what they do, and the months, sometimes years, they spend far away from their loved ones.
I like to set my books is different countries: it keeps things interesting. For my crime-thrillers set in England, I want to ensure that the police procedural details are as realistic as possible. I was lucky that an author-friend put me in touch with a retired CID (Homicide) detective.
We first met ten years ago and I now regard him as a father-figure, my own father having passed away. Not only does he help me understand how detectives do their job, he is also a big fan of crime fiction. This makes him the perfect person with whom to brainstorm book ideas.
Authors make a detective’s life appear constantly exciting. That’s our job. In reality, their days are full of tedious but necessary tasks, such as the hours of door-knocking, wading through telephone or financial records, or the cold, all night stakeouts, and then moments of terrifying danger. Being a cop is not a glamorous job. Thank goodness there are people willing to do it.
It takes a special kind of person to be a sniper, particularly one stationed at an airport. Steady, calm, patient, and highly skilled. These days, international travel is on hold in many countries, and domestic travel is limited. When I met the police sniper, it was before the global pandemic hit.
His job was to take out a threat, in particular terrorist bombers. He was willing to talk about the huge responsibility of taking a life to protect others. He had never had to shoot through an innocent civilian to kill a terrorist, and he knew that if that day came and he was given the order, he would do it, but it would haunt him for the rest of his life. He showed me his rifle and the bullet proof vest he wears with many pockets. What made me smile was the Mars bar poking out of the top of his vest, next to items such as handcuffs and a Taser.
The woman who defends rhinos from poachers
Imagine living alone on a wildlife reserve in South Africa knowing that at any moment poachers will try to butcher your rhinos and steal the horns.
Some years ago, I was writing a thriller about a female journalist who seeks to expose a Vietnamese crime syndicate behind the illegal trade in rhino horn. I volunteered at a private reserve so I could learn more about rhino poaching and life in South Africa. The reserve manager was a woman of true courage. I began to realise that defending her rhinos from poachers was like living in a war zone. Her life had been threatened many times and when she wasn’t patrolling the fences at night, she slept with a pistol on her nightstand.
The crime syndicates who fund rhino poaching are super rich. They arm poachers with AK47s, helicopters and even night vision goggles. The global pandemic ended tourism in South Africa over a year ago and therefore the reserve’s income has dried up. She cannot even afford to replace a broken water pump. It’s a David and Goliath battle and there are real lives at stake. She is the epitome of courage.
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