Lynda La Plante, 76, is the author of more than 30 internationally best-selling novels. She has written and produced more than 170 hours of television, and her original script for Prime Suspect won Bafta and Emmy awards, among others. She received a CBE in 2008.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I wanted to be a ballet dancer but injured both knees falling off a swing. However, I doubt I ever would have achieved this dream, as my mother always said I was one step behind everyone else.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
I went to a small private school that resembled St Trinian’s, and then at 15 I auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and won a scholarship.
Who was or still is your mentor?
My mentor from the start of my writing career was Verity Lambert; I still hear her voice. Verity was an exceptionally talented producer but also a brilliant editor, and taught me how to stand back from my work and read aloud to find the weak points.
One note she once gave me was: “If you give me diamonds, don’t surround them with marcasite.” It’s important to be able to edit out the dross and retain the jewel.
How physically fit are you?
I have had a very bad year, as I foolishly allowed a surgeon to perform cataract surgery on both of my eyes. I’d only wanted laser treatment so as not to have to wear reading glasses. I was virtually blind for six months.
On top of that, I have had major surgery on the discs in my neck. I also get terrifying migraines. I try to exercise and eat sensibly.
I do look forward to a G&T at night, though.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Ambition is obviously important but it isn’t really a strength. A will to do something and an ability to recover from disappointment are most important. Success matters because it proves you chose the right path.
For me, the support of my fans keeps me working and striving to improve.
How politically committed are you?
Very, but my commitments are personal.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Another Great Dane. I had one called Bates — not after Norman, but after a butler. He was magnificent and gentle and loving. Even though I have a dog now — a cockapoo — it is not the same.
I miss my beloved Bates and whenever I see a Great Dane in the park, my heart lurches.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
First-class travel. I am always losing things and to have first-class treatment makes all the flights I have to do easier and comfortable.
In what place are you happiest?
In my home. Right now I am in the Hamptons, where I can look out through huge windows on to a bay. The beauty of my surroundings makes me so thankful for everything I have.
What ambitions do you still have?
I would like to go to Marlon Brando’s island in French Polynesia.
What drives you on?
As a writer, one is driven by commissions. I get as excited by every new project as I always did. I truly love my work.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
To have been awarded the CBE for my charity and literary work.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Lack of respect.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
Thank goodness you didn’t keep trying to become a ballet dancer.”
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
My sister Dale died in a terrible accident. My mother gave me a tiny gold bracelet with a gold charm on it that had belonged to Dale. I only wore it once before I lost it.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
To care for all life and, when you can, to help those in need.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I believe in there being a reckoning. The most peaceful people I know are deeply religious.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I think an eight.
‘The Dirty Dozen’ by Lynda La Plante is published by Zaffre, £18.99
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