The Inventory: Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell, 56, is known for her series of bestselling crime novels featuring forensic scientist Kay Scarpetta. She has won many awards and in 2011 was created Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?

To be an archaeologist. It makes perfect sense when you consider my interest in crime scenes – reconstructing a life, a death, a complete civilisation from shards and splinters, flecks of paint and bone. An archaeological excavation is an autopsy of the past.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Public [US state-funded]. After university I went to work for a newspaper after applying to six grad schools and not getting into a single one of them. Failure’s not always a bad thing.

Mentor: Billie Jean King

Who was or still is your mentor?

Billie Jean King. I used to watch her on TV when I was a kid. She was my hero. Then I had the uncanny gift of becoming her friend. She has taught me so much about courage and doing what’s right – about truth, about pressure being a privilege. I asked her once when we were in the players’ lounge at Wimbledon: “Were you ever afraid of losing?” She looked at me and said, “I knew I’d be up all night, pacing and miserable, if I lost. It wasn’t an option.”

How physically fit are you?

I’d give myself a B+. Working out is very important to me. Our body is the car we drive. Take good care of it.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Both, mixed with heavy doses of tenacity and courage.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

As a kid, yes. I think I passed.

How politically committed are you?

I’m very committed to leaders who value human rights and freedom. I can’t stand lying, posturing. It seems that leadership with some candidates has turned into fetch: wherever the ball might bounce, run and snatch it up. America must be freedom-driven, not fear-driven.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I’m guilty of owning machines that burn a lot of fuel. My apologies.

Do you have more than one home?


What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A twin-engine helicopter – it’s safer than the single-engine bird I fly.

Most wanted: Twin-engine helicopter

What’s your biggest extravagance?


In what place are you happiest?

With my partner, Staci, preferably on the water.

What ambitions do you still have?

To get better at what I do, no matter what it is.

What drives you on?

I’m a fighter, always have been. When I finally leave this planet, I want to be more highly evolved than I was when I arrived.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Creating Scarpetta.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

The business manager I totally trusted and am now suing.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

She would be stunned at where life is going to take her. Poor thing would be a bit overwhelmed.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d keep writing. I’d try to have a good attitude and be a decent human being.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Under certain pristinely controlled circumstances.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I believe life and death are a continuum. Energy can’t be created or destroyed. I’m very spiritual.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?


The 20th Scarpetta thriller, “The Bone Bed”, by Patricia Cornwell, is published in hardback by Little, Brown (£18.99)

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