An open letter to Jeremy Hunt re TAX CREDITS


Do you have any idea why the Welfare System was set up? Do you think it was to look after feckless and idle ****ers who can’t be bothered to work?

Or do you think it was a safety-net for events that life throws at us when we least expect it? For those who don’t come from wealthy families who can pick up the pieces?

If you are going to take away with one hand, is it possible you set up something else positive with the other? Not everyone is born the same, yet we are all a UK collective. Not everyone has your chances – or mine. Don’t watch Benefit Street, provided as cheap entertainment by TV companies colluding with a public need to feel superior. Understand why this happens; why benefits become attractive or normal. History repeats itself. Damage repeats itself often, I’ve learnt the hard way.

If only we taught basic empathy, human psychology and emotional balance in primary schools. Give kids who don’t have the same chances, the same chances.

I had it easy growing up in the middle classes.

But, product of a broken home myself, I made a bad destructive marriage; in 2009, I left it, before I went mad.

I had 2 small kids, aged 3 & 5. Their father gave me nothing. I worked every hour God sent, writing books and in TV production, crossing London on an hour and a half commute each way at one point. Coming home to look after our home alone, feed, clothe and get the kids out of bed the next day before starting again.

I had to pay a lot of childcare to work; as a single parent there was no safety net of home babysitters. I was exhausted.

My friend, also a single mother, not through choice but because her ex was violent, told me to apply for single working tax credits. They really really made a difference. Thank God, I thought, some reprieve.

In 2010, still working hard, I was diagnosed with cancer. I kept working when I could, but I had 6 mths of full-on chemo & radiotherapy. My ex was still not contributing. My divorce went through.  During medical treatment, I applied for ‘sick benefit’ – it came through long, long after my fortnightly chemo was over, and was negligible.  AND considered as an earning, when I came to do my tax return.

My ex, scared by a court order (that actually isn’t worth the paper it’s written on) then intermittently gave me a bit for a while – at the most, £200 per month towards the upkeep of both kids. He rarely had them to stay, sucked up NO costs, including the childcare that i had to pay to work.

When he threatened to stop paying again, I rang the CSA. I was told I’d be worse off probably if I used them to chase for what I was owed. I might end up getting NOTHING because my ex was freelance too.

I succumbed to the idea that I was alone.

I absolutely relied on my tax credits to keep a roof over our heads. (And actually, if my family hadn’t stepped in whilst I was ill, I wouldn’t possibly have kept a roof over our heads; my house would have been repossessed and I’d be. another statistic on a council waiting list. So I was lucky.)

My ex stopped paying that bit of money, and moved away

A few yrs later I met a new partner. Leaving school at 17, from a working class family, he’d worked every day of his life (ok not every weekend but you get me), working his way up the ladder with no qualifications. Until finally he’d had a great job, in a specialist firm making clocks for everyone from the Arsenal to St Paul’s Cathedral, for ten years.

When he was production manager, on £50k a year, the nice little family firm was taken over by an ex IBM man with quotas to fill.

After five years of corrupt culture my partner got made redundant for various horrible reasons.

He was forced to sign on because he’d used his savings to keep the family home for his kids to come back to, when his first wife went AWOL.

He was ritually humiliated every other week by dour JobCentre staff trying to keep up their quotas of getting people off the dole, so the government could say unemployment was down. He would sit beside others signing on who couldn’t even speak the language, this man who’d worked his arse off, and paid his taxes for 30 years. Who’d never used a university or taken money from the state. He got NO tax credits because his ex took them all, despite them sharing the childcare.

Desperate to work again, he spent his whole time applying for jobs far below his ability and wasn’t allowed the time to go and train or do some free work experience in a new line of work because he had to be seen to apply for a certain amount of jobs every day. At one point he was sent on a course to learn to be kitchen staff. One question was ‘how do you spell baked bean’?

He searched his soul: he decided not to go back into composite engineering where the world was being eroded by a corporate culture that cares nothing for the man or the soul but only for marks on sheets of papers. For PROFIT AND RESULTS.

He now works as an assistant in a Special Needs school. He leaves home before 8am every day, gets home at 6 and has 40 mins – perhaps – for lunch, if not doing extra activities with the students. Every day he’s punched, if not head-butted, at least 3 times by the boy he cares for with psychotic autism, whom the system can barely find a place for. For this privilege, which is exhausting but at least rewarding, he earns £18,000 a year before tax.   Could he work any harder?? I doubt it. Does he get the living wage? I doubt it if you work out the hours he actually does.

I have been training to be a counsellor to help people who’ve been through life-threatening crap like I did. I write books, I don’t earn much. Sometimes I teach. I work really hard. I still get NO money from my ex, who rarely sees his children. I’ve resigned myself to that. THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THAT – THERE IS NO FALLBACK.

But I AM NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH so my tax credits will be cut.  AND I AM ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.  There are SO many others out there far far far far worse off than me.



Last week on Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey said these immortal words: “I wonder if writers know the pleasure they bring”! I would have done an air punch if I was prone to such but instead I gave a small smile (I’m half British and inhibited, even when it’s only the dog & cat watching. And you haven’t seen my cat. He’s a pretty cool customer. The dog? Not so much.)

Anyway, it was a bit of an hallelujah moment for me: not least ‘cos I’ve got a girl crush on Jane Garvey and her soothing tones yet incisive questioning. Of course I know she wasn’t specifically talking about me – but still, it made me smile, so much I tweeted her – and SHE ACTUALLY TWEETED BACK OMG!!!! She did say she was partial to a footballer’s autobiography, and er..I can’t see me ever writing one of them, but still :)

So, my joy was because I have long felt that my job – when I can call it such, ie when I’m actually earning owt from writing, which is intermittent – is something I love doing so much but seems so frivolous and unimportant, how can it possibly be ‘worthwhile’. Specially opposed to something like brain surgery, or making a road or teaching a child something (though I do hope I do that too, every day, with my own kids…I teach them loads like how to duck a box round the ear, how to match scarlet with anything, how to – )

And yet I also heard the esteemed author Kate Atkinson on the radio a few weeks ago (yes how I love that little black box that sits unassuming in the corner of almost every room in my house) and she talked of writing being ‘rescue’ and again, that felt very poignant to me.

Because whether she meant rescue for the reader or the writer, for me writing is a life force, without being wanky & pretentious –it’s part of who I am, what I live and breath and I can’t stop doing it (sorry about that), even though my fortunes have been less than outrageous… :)

And at the most terrifying moments in my life, when I was very ill and feared I might die; when I left my marriage and feared for my children’s psychological well-being, I kept writing, writing, writing on and on, largely privately, but also for my work – and it helped me make sense of things, it helped me keep my head just about above water. As did reading other writers’ work…

At the height of my treatment for lymphoma, just before my last novel was published, the PR asked me if I wanted to write about my illness. I said no, because I was so shocked and scared, I wasn’t ready, it was private etc – but also the idea of using cancer as a sales tool seemed – unseemly. Now, though, five years on, I may be ready to write about it: just to say to anyone out there suffering, you’re not alone, I got through so you can too.




Yep that’s me…oh no, that’s my new book. Except it’s not all that new, it’s a re-release of FRAGILE MINDS, featuring my old favourite DI Silver, his new side-kick Lorraine Kenton, partial to a Heinz tomato soup colour hair dye, and a ‘heroine’ called Claudie.  Except is she a heroine – or has she done something terribly bad?  After a bomb explodes in central London, she can’t quite remember why she was there..

Harper Collins/ Avon have re-released it as an Ebook today with a canny new title…GIRL WITH A FRAGILE MIND

Originally, the book came out the same week as SJ Watson’s BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (to, er, slightly less furore!), and features a different type of amnesia…see what you think…

I’ll have more news soon on the publication of my new thriller, working title 24 HOURS….

And I hope you all had more luck with the eclipse than me…the thick cloud obscuring the sky might have fugged up my colander :)


So after a brief hiatus of around 3 years I thought it might be time to take to the airwaves again. If nothing else, having a blog means I can sound off quietly to myself about stuff like useless bureaucrats / mangled systems that don’t work properly. Moving house twice in a year will do that to you, I’ve found – reduced to the indignities of being a number and not a name… of course if I was in charge, it’d all work properly. To what do I refer? Oh you know, largely council departments, council depts, and er, more bloody council depts…I will sidestep that before I start to rant…

So moving onto, more appropriate bookish things, this week I read an interview with Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgaard (link). I tried to read the 1st volume of his My Struggle last summer, largely ‘cos Zadie Smith said it was like literary crack.  What’s not to like, then – a massive hit in a book and no comedown. But it’s not like any crack I’ve tried (ahem). I soldiered on for a bit; fairly interested in him getting illegal beer to a New Year’s Eve party aged 15, an episode which only took around 40 pages, but my editor’s voice kept saying come on Karl Ove, CUT!!!!! Finally after a long description of playing guitars which reminded me no less of (generally male) bores at parties you can’t get away from, I gave up. Time is too short and precious these days to waste on a book I don’t get.

But I’m fascinated by the lavish praise…amazing literary feat/ ground-breaking etc, for essentially a stream of non-linear consciousness about his entire life …so, then, just like a giant disordered diary? In the interview, he talks of SHAME, and half his family not speaking to him since airing all the dirty laundry etc. His current wife had a nervous breakdown cos she didn’t like the furore, so of course he wrote about that too. But isn’t that shameful; transgressing boundaries for – what? Art? The need to be authentic? I hate to cast judgements these days, but I’m struggling to understand MY STRUGGLE. I get that he’s an essentially talented if troubled writer, but you know…all 6 volumes of it (a new one out this week no less, with a 400 page essay on Hitler, in case you hadn’t realised they both wrote a book of the same name). If someone can explain why it’s so revolutionary, other than the ‘honesty’, I’d be pleased to hear. It just reminds me a little  of the confessional journalism I wrote for various papers, often feeling slightly dirty making a buck from my own laundry.  His is just more angsty and ‘intellectual.’  Also he’s not been hauled over hot coals for admitting being a parent is tough /quite boring, whereas if he was female, he’d be in the DAILY MAIL shame corner by now.

MY DIRTY LAUNDRY ALERT!! Look away now if you don’t like: in other news, the 10-year-old got into the big school (wrong terminology – been a long day already) he wanted to – but also got stressed as he was the only child at his primary not to find out on the correct day because YES those bureaucrats at Lewisham didn’t email us – and when I e’d her the next day, she said ‘your letter’s in the post’ even though she COULD HAVE PUT HIM OUT OF HIS MISERY poor wee soul. That is one power-crazed ******* ******* down at the council, same woman who added infinitely to the stress of the move. I’d like to air her dirty etc…

Let’s try Some Knausgaard-esque stuff: In the course of writing this I’ve eaten most of a bag of mini eggs. I hope they didn’t suffer :) Meanwhile, the puppy has eaten the cat flap. Not the cat or its flaps, I hasten to add, but just most of the cat-flap. He knows the cat food is on THAT side, the canny little bugger, so he’s gonna keep chewing ‘til he gets there. But hey, I have news for you, my doggie friend.  Watch this space…(see..well authentic)..

And so finally, to the best bit of the week…OUR NEW MATTRESS!!! And YES! This is QUITE CAITLIN MORAN BUT I FEEL LIKE THIS: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It doesn’t matter that beloved John Lewis were so busy wheeling penguins out they forgot to actually deliver it and it took 6 weeks and many many phone irate polite calls and emails when it should have taken 3, and it cost more than a small kingdom would. Who cares now it’s ACTUALLY HERE!!!  because it caused much angst…

We can go to bed without having to constantly politely negotiate who gets the shit bit.  We can sleep (perchance to dream etc). We can not wake in the night every time the other one so much as blinks (the crappy old mattress responded to any movement like a Ninja roller-coaster). We can stay away from each other if we choose, and we can cuddle up in the middle if we want and NEITHER OF US HAS TO LIE IN THE DIP.  THERE IS NO DIP!! We can just lie, as we are wont to in our bed which we spend, what is it, 40% of our time in – WE CAN LIE FLAT!!!! HURRAH!!!!!

Until next time



Well I never did….I am lucky enough to have been nominated for an award for a short story I wrote HE DID NOT ALWAYS SEE HER. Apparently that means that on July 5 I get to go to a posh dinner in London town (always a good excuse for a spot of shopping) and then they will read some names out and I will feel anxious but pretend to be very cool and fortunately I doubt there will be cameras in my face awaiting a sad response like they do at the Oscars/ BAFTAs then probably someone else will win but I will just be happy to be there and in such good company!! Mainly I want to thank the jolly nice judges for putting me up for the award.


I am not good at updating my blog because I spend so long writing fiction, I can’t always think of real stuff to say!! But I’m heading down to Bristol on Thursday (May 24) for the 2012 Crimefest & I’ll be on a panel on Friday which when I can find the details (ahem) I’ll post.. See you in the (nearly) West Country hopefully, for a pint of cider and a pasty.


Just a quick note to say I will be appearing at Manor House Library in London’s SE13 on Sunday to celebrate the inaugural National Reading Group Day along with the poet Chrissie Gittins.  If you’re lounging around with nothing much to do or you’re in fact rushed off your feet and fancy a breather, a bit of chat about what book you’d take to a desert island and a cup of tea, drop in and see us!

Details here


Sun’s out again, I had a lovely very soft launch for latest opus Fragile Minds and I’ve been lucky enough to be receiving various reviews for the book; if you’re interested, some examples here: Reviewing the Evidence here, Books and Writers here and New Books here (“extremely intelligent thriller – missing the characters already” – thank you, Shona, wherever you may be), CrimeSquad here (I like the phrase “deliciously blunt prose”.).  So far, so good by and large though of course there are criticisms too.  And in case I ever got too complacent, there are inevitably a few Amazon reviewers who apparently hate me, let alone my writing, despite never having met (classic comments include “”she obviously got a book deal because of her media contacts” – oh, if only you knew the truth – and “she needs a ghost writer” – any offers?!)  Which has made me ponder how easy it is to write WHATEVER you want these days because of the internet – and is that a good or a bad thing?  I mean, I’m all for freedom of speech, but there’s a thin line between fact and fiction…which leads me onto this:

On Thursday I did a lecture on Drama Documentary down at Greenwich University.  It involved much complicated downloading of clips (largely so the students could watch more and I could talk less); films we looked at included United 93 about 9/11 which used both actors and real people playing themselves; The Arbor, a brilliantly innovative film about playwright Andrea Dunbar’s tragic life; the much-debated ‘doc’ Catfish and, um, TOWIE ( that masterpiece, The Only Way is Essex to those less in the know).  I mentioned ‘manipulated’ documentaries – see Faking It, Wife Swap etc – and then in the examples I showed, about what was real and what was invented or skewed by the producers.  A fellow lecturer was intrigued by ‘whose truth is real’ (probably more so than the students whom I’m never sure are actually listening, more likely texting mates about who is ‘well sick’: this, apparently, is desirable.  Yep, my mind’s boggling too).  Which leads me onto this:

Yesterday morning, drinking coffee in the conspicuously trendy-dom of Shoreditch (slightly painful and frightening, actually, I find it), I read ex-colleague Adam Curtis’s interview in The Guardian here: his new documentary series is about how computers have not freed us but helped us lose our vision.  He talks about the wonderful/ evil twins (delete appropriately to your personal taste)Facebook & Twitter: “On Facebook & Twitter you are performing to attract people – dancing emotionally on a platform created by a large corporation.”  He goes onto compare our revealing our feelings to Stalin’s socialist realism but at that point in the article, I had to go meet my mate (Ok, he slightly lost me)…it is fascinating though, and I think he’s right.  Who exactly are we tweeting/ Facebooking for – and is it ‘truthful’?!  My publishers constantly harangue me to Tweet – I did sign up a few years ago but I only managed to attract couple of female porn stars (confused but flattered, really, girls!), then promptly lost my password and couldn’t ever seem to log in again (those who know me won’t be surprised at this).

Having watched The Social Network the other night, about the advent of Facebook (and sorry, I must just add, Andrew Garfield is CUTE, and that’s my truth. And the au pair’s), I’ve felt slightly dirty Facebooking this weekend (am sure it will pass) but also noted that the genius inventor Zuckerberg actually did so to attract the attention of an ex-girlfriend who’d just dumped him.  That, for me, kind of sums it up really.


So my 4th novel FRAGILE MINDS – the one I’ve probably sweated most blood and tears over (you may think I’m joking, but er, actually…) is beginning to filter its way into all good bookshops (hmmm.  Discuss..) and here I am again, still standing.  You may notice I’ve been lying even lower (standing, lying – the possibilities are infinite) since my last post in November.  Life took a strange turn of events just after I wrote it – one day it was trundling down one path and then within a matter of hours, it swerved off on a completely different and rather precarious one…suffice to say not really a direction I’d have chosen as it largely involved hospitals.

But…Spring is here now, and things are looking up.  At the risk of sounding slightly insane, I’ve been on a journey that was at times terrifying, but has changed me forever.  I guess sometimes you have to stare into the abyss before you can jump back from it…and I guess I might have been doing more than stare into it – I actually toppled in for a little while.  This week I arrived in Cornwall again for the first time since last August, having at my lowest ebb feared I’d never be here again; I stood in the evening sun on a hill-top overlooking the sea yesterday and had a strange moment where I felt a bit like one of the evaporating vampires in True Blood where they dissolve into light.  All that without the use of hallucinogens.  Brilliant  -and a properly cheap night out.

So FRAGILE MINDS was probably quite appropriate, title wise.  DCI Silver, the lady’s favourite, is back (promoted since LULLABY days but still as inscrutable and Northern.)  I hope it makes sense to everyone apart from me.  I mean, it does make sense to me.  But then, I wrote it.

Happy Spring, and love and light to all.  (don’t worry, I haven’t found God.  Just a few vampires along the way.)