OUTSIDE her window is grey sky, falling rain and the monotonous drone of traffic as city life goes about its every day, fairly dreary business.
Snug inside, Lesley Lokko has allowed her mind to slowly drift. From her Edinburgh flat she races between exotic climes and sun-kissed beaches, conjuring up a strong, handsome man whose gentle touch over a silken sheath of fabric sends chills. In her mind she hears his lover’s throaty sighs, the thrill of romance, the tension, the passion . . .
Of course, she now confesses with a gutsy laugh, this was never a real romance. No silver sandy beaches or gently lapping turquoise waters. No real life love god with bulging wallet or demure, slightly scheming heroine.
As for the sensual, steamy scenes that flow through her series of beachcomber “bonkbuster” style novels – clever stories featuring characters with fabulous names like Anneliese Zander de St Phalle and Laure St Lazare, and men who ooze wealth and power – well, it transpires they could not have less exotic roots.
“The Cowgate,” Lesley nods, laughing heartily again. “I rented a place in the Cowgate. I could look outside and it was hammering down rain and inside I’d write about all these exotic places. Edinburgh has this incredible peace and quiet,” she adds, “I have friends in the city, if I want a break I can go out for a coffee . . . it is a good place for me to write.”
Also, clearly, it’s the perfect place to drum up all manner of sensual goings on. And hot sex, passionate encounters and the thrill of a good old fashioned Jilly Cooper-style literary romp is certainly pressing the buttons of many a breathless book buyer these days.
Dubbed “mummy porn”, erotic books that throb with raunchy detail are topping the best-seller charts – from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to so-called Mills and Bang books, romantic fiction that provides significantly more thrust than your typical starch and lace tale of demure courting couples.
Not that Scots-born Lesley, 49, is quite in the triple X-rated category – think Jackie Collins on a particularly lively day with a smart and sophisticated edge. Instead of “chick lit” with ordinary girls bumping into Mr Right over the onions at the supermarket, this is “glam lit” with women in high flying, exciting jobs who jet around the globe rubbing shoulders and other parts with devious men from the upper ranks of high society in twisting, intelligently spun tales.
They’re the kinds of books many seeking a good hot read will pack in their summer holiday suitcases – the latest, An Absolute Deception, is just out – and they are not exactly the kind of tales which might be expected to be conjured up in a small room, in an old corner of Scotland’s capital city. That they have – although others were written in the perhaps even more unusual surroundings of a farm barn near Silverburn in East Lothian – is rather bizarrely rooted in a long personal battle which has seen Lesley struggling with her own demons to become a fraction of the woman she was.
Today Lesley, the daughter of a Ghanaian surgeon and Scots mother, is slim and healthy. When she’s not pounding out another best-seller she’s running to keep fit, or flitting between her homes in Johannesburg, Accra and London while planning her imminent move to a new home here in Edinburgh.
Yet not that long ago the architect turned author was battling to control her calories. Her weight was spiralling out of control, every bite of food an emotional crutch to help comfort her from demons she wasn’t even completely sure she had.
She was 5ft 9ins and a size 22, carrying 19 stones which every diet she tried failed to dramatically shift. And she was not exactly happy.
“I would love to say that health concerns were at the root of my unhappiness and the decision to finally do something about my weight, but it was something far more prosaic,” she says. “Jealousy.
“I went to meet an old (and equally overweight) friend at a restaurant one night and walked straight past her. To say I was surprised is an understatement of epic proportions. I actually felt ill. How had she done it?”
The answer was a rigorous but clearly effective diet programme. Inspired, Lesley set herself a project: come to Edinburgh, write a book and lose weight.
She engaged Lighter Life counsellor Jo Ostlere who guided her through the programme’s meal replacement plan and encouraged her to seek out reasons for her weight gain in group sessions. To further boost her understanding of where she was going wrong, Lesley found a private counsellor to talk through her past.
“My parents had a terrible divorce,” she continues, “and I used to listen to them fighting. I would be six or seven at the time, and would think about what I would have to eat for breakfast. I think that food and how I was feeling became fastened together.
“So when I felt sad or lonely or insecure I would eat something, then it’s the way you deal with lots of things. The bottom line is because food is pleasurable and I like food, it’s a really easy fix.”
Her strategy paid off. Within six weeks she’d lost two stones and as her figure changed, her confidence soared and her words flowed.
Book followed book – now seven stones lighter, she’s more than matched that by penning a total of seven books.
Exotic and erotic, her books are also known for zig-zagging across the globe, locations whirling between the heat of Haiti, South Africa and Los Angeles, to Morocco, London and even Timbuktu.
So many locations, strange then that the one place where the books have their roots, Edinburgh, has yet to make an appearance . . .
“In the next book, one of the characters is Scottish and goes to Fettes,” Lesley, 49, reveals. “Her grandfather was a missionary in South Africa and her Scottish family take in the daughter of an expelled political leader. The two girls are then at Fettes, so for parts the book is set in Edinburgh but it does also go elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, she’s house hunting. “Edinburgh feels like a proper city,” she smiles. “It’s quite small, you can walk everywhere and as an architect if find it particularly interesting. I enjoy London but it’s frenetic and I love being able to escape. What I do know though, is that Edinburgh has very good ‘writing’ weather.”
n For more about Lesley Lokko, go to www.lesley lokko.com. Lighter Life information is available at www.lighterlife.com or contact counsellor Jo Ostlere at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pen proved mightiest for lesley
Lesley Lokko was born in Dundee to a Ghanaian surgeon and Scots mother.
Her father’s medical career involved training in Edinburgh and working in Kirkcaldy. Her mother battled with alcoholism and left the family home when she was ten years old. Most of her childhood was spent between Ghana and Scotland.
Lesley juggled with a variety of jobs before she decided to train to become an architect.
She was inspired to write novels after reading an article about how to write a bestseller.
Her first book, Sundowners, quickly topped the bestseller charts.
She followed it with Saffron Skies, Bitter Chocolate and Rich Girl, Poor Girl, A Private Affair and One Secret Summer, all of which works were penned in Edinburgh.
Her latest book, which is entitled An Absolute Deception, follows the story of a famous fashion designer whose life unravels and flits between locations in Namibia, Germany, England and the Caribbean.
She is currently working on her eighth book and was recently reported to have signed a “high six-figure” deal with her publishers, Orion, to pen a further four books.