Interview: Martina Cole, author

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WITH her gravelly Essex twang and no-nonsense attitude, Martina Cole sounds just like a character in one of her books.

Mention that her gangland novels are the most borrowed books in prison libraries and the most stolen from shops, and she merely laughs huskily.

Perhaps her readers can relate to the criminal underworld she describes in her stories, or have some experience of the rough estates on which they are set, or maybe she’s just giving them food for thought.

Whatever the reason, nothing fazes the 52-year-old best-selling, multi-millionaire author, whose book jackets are as brazen as the characters within them, dominated by her name in huge capitals. We know who’s boss and she admits that some men find her quite intimidating.

“I sense that they are a bit nervous or worry that I might have a violent thug lurking in the background who’s my boyfriend,” she laughs.

Each time she writes a new novel it goes straight to number one on the best-seller list and remains among the high rollers for months.

Her books are not for the faint-hearted. Graphic violence abounds in all 18 novels, the latest of which, The Faithless, sees gangland villains chopping a victim’s arm off with a machete and then sticking the rest of him in a car-crushing machine at a dump. Think claw hammers and severed arteries and you’re on the right track.

“That comes from my research in true crime books,” she says. “When people come into my work library they must think, ‘Oh my God! It’s all serial killers!’ Some of the true crime you read about is so outrageous that if you wrote it, people would think it was far-fetched. But truth is much stranger than fiction a lot of the time.

“I get lots of post from prisoners telling me certain parts of my books aren’t factually correct, but you’ve got to have some artistic licence.”

Her female characters tend to be either put-upon women who are slaves to their men, or strong, often violent and vengeful women who know what they want in life. There’s little doubt she shares some of those traits, minus the violent tendencies. In recent years her books have been adapted for TV, including The Take, Dangerous Lady and The Jump, while a second series of Martina Cole’s Lady Killers, about women who kill, is in pre-production.

Success may have changed her life, but it hasn’t changed her.

The Faithless by Martina Cole is published by Headline, £19.99