Barbara Copperthwaite is the bestselling author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE and FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD. Her new book, THE DARKEST LIES, is out today. To celebrate its release, we asked her to tell us a little bit about herself.
The Darkest Lies is set in the fictional village of Fenmere, which is geographically based on Friskney, the Lincolnshire village I was raised in. Just as in the book, the village is beside a sea marsh that was used as a bombing range by the RAF. I grew up in the middle of the peaceful countryside, surrounded by the sounds of war: gun fire on the wind, fighter jets roaring overhead, and the boom of bombs going off in the distance.
When I was in my early twenties I spent a short time working in HMP Barlinnie, a high security men’s prison in Glasgow. I met some fascinating people there, who sparked the idea for my first novel, Invisible – although I didn’t start writing it until many years later.
Despite not having a degree, I worked my way up from trainee reporter on my local weekly newspaper to become a national newspaper and magazine journalist and editor. I've interviewed the real victims of crime - and also those who have carried those crimes out. Thanks to people sharing their stories with me, I know about the emotional impact of violence and wrong-doing. That's why my novels are gritty, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions.
I love dogs. My mum says that even as a child in a pram I used to terrify her by reaching out to every dog that passed by. They always loved me, too. No jokes, please. My present dog, Scamp, is obsessed with tennis balls and can find one wherever we go for a walk. I think I should enter her in Britain’s Got Talent, or something…
When I write, I love noise. I can’t stand writing in silence. Music, television, a café, whatever, I need noise. I think it’s from my days as a journalist, working in hectic offices.
The car crash scene in Flowers For The Dead is actually inspired by two car crashes I was in. Just like in the book, I was driving to work one day in the mist when a white van smashed my wing mirror through my window. A few weeks later, I hit a patch of black ice, and span the car out of control. It hit a hedge, bounced off it, and flipped upside down, which caved the roof in. The fire brigade told me that my life had been saved by the fact I had let go of the steering wheel and flinched away from the window – most people brace against the steering wheel, straightening their arms and sitting upright. If I’d done that, the roof would have hit my head, killing me. The reason I let go of the steering wheel? Because of the crash a few weeks earlier – I’d been terrified the window was going to smash again. White van man indirectly saved my life when he drove into me.
To relax, I take photographs of wildlife. I’ve always been passionate about nature, and love taking pictures of birds, insects, plants, and animals, and then looking them up to discover more about what I’ve seen. Information on my nature blog has been used to help create a management plan for my local park that will safeguard the wildlife there, as well as help the Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust compile species information in the area. I feel really proud of that. I also love drawing. Many of my sketches are based on the photographs I take.
I really enjoy research, and can lose hours of the day to it. No matter what weird thing I dream up in my imaginations, I will always discover something even stranger has happened in real life. So much of my inspiration comes from actual crimes. For instance, when I read how Jeremy Bamber dyed his hair a shade darker in order to look pale when pretending to grieve over his dead family, I knew it was exactly the sort of thing my serial killer, Adam, would do. The Darkest Lies was also sparked by something that happened in real life – though I can’t say what because it would give too much away!
I agonize over choosing character names, because they often have special meaning for me. For example, Laura Weir was chosen to reflect her turbulent past; while Melanie Oak is far stronger and firmer than she would ever have given herself credit for at the start of The Darkest Lies.
Many of the locations I choose in my books have special meaning to me: I was raised near Skegness and my first job in journalism was writing for the Skegness Standard; and in Flowers For The Dead, Adam strikes on a cold winter’s day on Skegness beach. I lived in Colchester for five years, which is where my character Detective Sergeant Mike Bishop lives and works, and where Adam’s final victim, Laura lived. Adam’s home was in Moseley, Birmingham – which is right next to where I now live.
As I mentioned earlier, The Darkest Lies is set in a fictional version of the village I was raised in.
And my next novel is based in Blackheath, London, where I lived for a time.