Lynda La Plante: I had three years of absolute agony

29 March 2021

She’s just hit 78, but Prime Suspect and Widows creator Lynda La Plante is showing no signs of slowing down – in fact she seems to be on a roll.

The award-winning screenwriter and author has penned two books during the pandemic, Judas Horse, the second in her new books series featuring hapless detective Jack Warr, and a new young Tennison book, Unholy Murder, which comes out in the summer.

She lives in her beautiful 19th century home in Surrey with her 17-year-old son, Lorcan, who she adopted as a baby when she was 59 after suffering years of infertility.

Lynda La Plante (Gemma Day/PA)

In recent years there have been health setbacks – she lost her sight following a double cataract operation and had to dictate her books, using a magnifying glass to proof-read. She also struggled for years with chronic neck pain, but has come out the other side stronger and fitter, retaining her wicked sense of humour and sharp observations on life.

Do you still have neck problems?

“No. I had eight different surgeons. Every one of them said, ‘Oh, it’s disc four, disc three, disc seven. I’d just wake up in the same agony. There was one surgeon who did a completely new thing – ablation of the nerve in the neck. I went in and had it done. It wasn’t my disc at all. To think, I had three years of absolute agony. Now, I can whip around.”

How are your eyes now, after partially losing your sight?“At one point it affected my work terribly. I had to do tapes and go through it and had to hear it talked back to me all the time. I now have bottleneck glasses and because of working on the laptop, I can make the print so large I can work on it. I’m not dictating any more.”

How do you stay so young?

“Gin and tonic! But truthfully, you get old if you’re lonely, sad or very poorly. I was so poorly for two years that just to be able to turn my head to look behind me and use my computer raises my energy levels. And I am made to feel very loved by my fans.”

Does Lorcan help keep you young?

“Do you mean through worry?” she says wryly. “It’s preposterous that he’s in flip-flops and shorts when it’s snowing. He says, ‘Mother, mind your own business.’

“It takes quite a lot for me to lose my temper, but there’s an irritation in that my son can bring down dishes from his room where he’s been eating and leave them two inches from the dishwasher,” she says, with a grin. “But Lorcan is a very good cook and because I haven’t been out for months, we decided that we would become great meat eaters. He ordered in steaks, we light up the barbecue come hail or snow and he’s out there cooking.”

How much exercise do you take?

“I walk every day, about a mile. Also, I have a lot of stairs. I usually get up around 6am, walk the dog. Lorcan and his girlfriend have a puppy called Pluto, a whippet.”

Are you careful what you eat?

“I wish I was. I’m afraid not. I’ve put on about a stone during lockdown. It’s mashed potatoes. I used to eat fudge and Liquorice Allsorts, but now it’s Crunchies and they do these big bags of them. I don’t eat puddings or cake, but I do like chocolate. And at four o’clock I think, ‘Could I have a gin and tonic now?’ I like the ginger and rhubarb gin from Asda.”

How do you relax after a stressful day?

“Sometimes I watch Poirot, but I’ll get halfway through and think, ‘I’ve seen this before’. I like Midsomer Murders. Sometimes I think, ‘What if I hadn’t had Prime Suspect or Widows?’ I would have remained an actress and I would have been in Midsomer Murders as that old barmaid.’”

Does work help your wellbeing?

“Definitely. Without it I don’t know what I’d do. I have tried a hobby of knitting, and if I was to show you what I’m knitting, it would make you gasp. I don’t know how the holes come. I think it’s going to be a blanket.”

Do you worry about getting older?

“No, although I was looking at my body the other day in the bath and I thought, ‘God, you’re white and blobby.’”

What about romance? Is there a man in your life?“Not on any surface – and I don’t want one. They would never allow me to work the length of time that I work, do what I do, eat what I eat. It’s over. I couldn’t be bothered.”

Judas Horse by Lynda La Plante is published on April 1 by Zaffre, priced £14.99.

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