Readers often ask if my experience informs my crime writing, whether my antagonists are real offenders formerly under my supervision or if investigations are based on criminal cases I came across in my job as a probation officer. I don’t regurgitate or glorify the lives of those with whom I came into contact. My clients all had form but I’m duty bound to keep their details confidential. Their stories are real, not imagined. However heinous their crimes, they deserve anonymity. Some of you may disagree with that, but there’s a more compelling reason. Let’s not forget that every criminal act has a victim. It would be unethical to dump their grief on a page in the name of entertainment.

My caseload included the sad, disaffected and underprivileged, those who’d fought to survive a lifetime of abuse or neglect. The rest was made up of hardened criminals for whom violence had become a way of life, those who’d peddled drugs, raped or murdered; those who’d taken the view that the laws of the land didn’t apply to them. Those who’d been removed from society, incarcerated in high security prisons, given life sentences. I’ve worked with those too, but I know where the line is and never step over it.

That’s not to say that I haven’t used what it felt like to do the job, that I don’t feed off my partner’s thirty-year police career when I write. I spent years rubbing shoulders with lawyers, judges, prison governors, police and victim support – an endless list of professions with insight into the seedier side of life. I was paid to observe, interpret and challenge criminal behaviour. It’s this that goes on the page and helps layer a story that has depth and meaning, with rounded characters readers can relate to, a tale with heart that moves people to want to read on.

I remember times when I was terrified or heartbroken, when I saw injustice I could do nothing about. I witnessed the guilty go free, innocent lives wrecked, dangerous offenders released when I knew the public were at risk the minute they swaggered through the prison gates. I think about the day I was on the wrong side of the assault that ended my probation career, the cops I knew and the traumatic events that overshadow their lives. Their voices are real to me. I know what makes them tick. And, when an idea finally arrives, I discuss it with my partner. Her credibility meter is always running . . .

I recently signed with Orion. When they asked me to write something new, it meant putting aside the characters that had made my name, those I’ve lived with for years, as real to me as anyone I know. There is no greater challenge than laying the foundation of a new series or creating a new detective duo but, in the course of writing eight books, I’d honed my craft and realised that I have more to give. Hero or villain, these new characters are already in me. I just had to find a way to wake them up and put them to work. Bring on DI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver.

THE LOST was published by Orion on March 22, 2018.

You can find Mari on Twitter @mariwriter or visit her website: marihannah@me.com

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