Vengeance in Mind successfully went into production just before Christmas, after an excellent edit by Simon & Schuster’s Emma Lowth. The proposed jacket looks great. Publication is due in the summer of 2012, in time (I hope) for The Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, which is always a highlight of my year.

The 2011 Harrogate festival, chaired by Dreda Say Mitchell, was a wow with more tickets sold than ever before. As a member of the committee, I’m always immensely cheered to see people coming back year after year, as well as meeting first-timers. In 2012, Mark Billingham will chair again, so I’m looking forward to fireworks (metaphorical) and great fun.

Altogether 2011’s crime festivals have left me with warm and happy memories. The brilliant St Hilda’s Crime & Mystery Weekend that takes place every year in Oxford could hardly be more different from Harrogate, limited as it is to an audience of 100 and with authors giving 40-minute papers on a subject of their choice linked to the main theme. For 2012 the theme will be humour in crime fiction, and I’ve been asked to talk about my first series (written as Natasha Cooper), which featured part-time civil servant Willow King, who moonlighted as a romantic novelist under the name of Cressida Woodruffe. It’s many years since I wrote the Willow novels and so I shall have great fun reacquainting myself with her and her adventures, as well as some of the reviews they were given. One included the deathless line ‘when you stop laughing, this isn’t a bad novel’, making me want to shriek, ‘But you were supposed to laugh, you [insert insult of your choice].’

In many ways it’s easier to write a serious crime novel than a funny one, although I’m incapable of avoiding all jokes in even the most serious. Vengeance in Mind is the fourth in my Isle of Wight series, featuring forensic psychologist Dr Karen Taylor. It deals with some exceptionally nasty aspects of human behaviour, and I found it hard to immerse myself in them in order to write this novel. But reading it after the final copy-edit was encouraging. Grim though some of the characters and their activities may be, I don’t believe that the novel as a whole is grim, and I emerged from the tricky process smiling. I hope readers and critics will agree.

The series has bedded in now, and is doing particularly well in Germany, where Lifeblood (the second novel) is now into its fourth printing. I got the news of that just before Christmas, which let me knock off work in great cheerfulness. The first, No Escape, was a bookclub main selection in France. Plans for the fifth are building now and I intend to start writing early in the new year.

Like most authors, I’m excited at the prospect of the January PLR figures, hoping that once again library readers will have done their usual encouraging thing and borrowed enough copies of my books to keep me up in the top category.

January will also see the publication of a DNA short story in My Weekly, which I hugely enjoyed writing and which left me with the hairs rising on the back of my neck with the appalling predicament in which I put my main character.

Apart from all that, and the customary intermittent reviewing, I’m embarking on my third year as a judge of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for thrillers. I love doing this, in spite of the vast numbers of thrillers that come popping through my front door, because I don’t usually review thrillers. I’ve found lots of novels to enjoy by authors I hadn’t previously known, as well as revelling in some of my long-time favourites.

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