The birth of a crime writer

Growing up in working-class Kirkcaldy in the 1960s, Val McDermid had a stroke of good fortune: when she was six, her parents moved to a house opposite the library. “That was probably the best thing they could have done for me,” the crime writer told Horatia Harrod in the FT. She became a voracious reader, and spent hours imagining herself as her favourite characters. “I was the whole Famous Five, including the dog, or Maria von Trapp escaping the Nazis,” she laughs. When she discovered (via an incident in one of the Chalet School books) that writing could be a job, the die was cast. She won a place at Oxford and then joined a tabloid newspaper. The experience proved helpful: “It gave me a greater under-standing and empathy: the things I saw, the people I spoke to, the worlds I got a peek into, changed me.” But ultimately, it was a miscalculation. “I went into it passionately believing that working people deserve newspapers that were informed as well as entertaining. I manifestly backed the wrong horse. In the mid- to late 1980s, tabloids became celebrity-obsessed scandal sheets. I did not become a journalist to be sitting outside a soap star’s house at 6am to see who came out.” Amber Rudd on LA. Gill Amber Rudd was a young investment banker at JPMorgan when she met Adrian Gill. He would become one of Britain’s foremost critics, but back then he was a penniless recovering alcoholic. “I thought I could conquer the world. Everything was going well,” she recalls. “Then I met this brilliant man, who had no career, nothing, completely without any prospects.” She fell pregnant, and they married. It was “wonderful”, Rudd, 55, told Simon Walters in the Daily Mail, until she began to suspect Gill was having an affair. Her fears were confirmed when she turned up unannounced at Heathrow to meet him off a flight and saw him emerge with the model Nicola Formby (“the Blonde” whose beauty he’d later extol in his columns). Rather than make a scene, Rudd simply drove them back to London. He left her soon after. He “always claimed he didn’t fall out of love, he just fell in love with someone else as well”. She shrugs. “It was difficult to rationalise. Anyway, he left, and I was left with a one-year-old and a three-year-old.” Her confidence shattered, it took her two years to recover. Meanwhile, he saw their children only occasionally. Yet he and Rudd remained on good terms; he got closer to the children as they got older; and she and Formby became friends. Then, just before she became home secretary, he phoned to tell her he had the cancer that, a few months later, would kill him. “He said, ‘I’m going to tell the children.’ I said, ‘Can you wait for another day?’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, `Because then they won’t know for another day.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones reckons that in one respect, he was lucky to have been born poor, says Helen Rumbelow in The Times: it left him with no fear of failure. “One reason people don’t do the one thing they want is that they dread ending up on the streets,” says the millionaire creator of the Black Farmer brand. “If you’ve grown up with poverty, you’re not frightened of it.” One of nine children, he arrived, aged six, from Jamaica with his parents, and — racially abused and severely dyslexic — didn’t get a single qualification at his inner-city school in Birmingham. As a natural rebel living on a tough estate, he might have ended up in prison if his father hadn’t put him in charge of the family allotment. “It became my haven: the place where I could go and dream big dreams. Everyone was telling me there was no future for people like me. On the allotment, no one was there to tell me that.” At 11, he promised himself that one day he would become a farmer, and though it took him 30 years to achieve his goal, it informed every step in his varied career, from the Army, to the restaurant business and then television. Now aged 60, and recovering from leukaemia, he relishes life more than ever. And he understands why farming has always exerted such a pull on him. “Power is land. You are no longer a migrant if you have land. Land says I belong here — I have a stake in it.”

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