Episode 22 - Alice Clark-Platts

Crime Author

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Alice Clark-Platts

Summary Intro

Alice Clark-Platts was a former human rights lawyer, before her hobby of writing led her to the fantastic thrillers The Cove 🌊 🌋 and the Flower Girls 🌼 amongst others.

With a Scottish father, a London upbringing and 10 years living aborad, Alice has a mix of backgrounds like many of our clients.


[Music] Hello, I’m Marcus Railton, and this is the Scotscare podcast. Scotscare is the only charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged Scots in London through a range of support, including mental health therapy, financial grants, advocacy, sheltered housing for older Scots, job coaching, social events, befriending, and support for children and families. The charity has been running for 400 years to help break the cycle of poverty experienced by some Scots in London.

In this series of the Scotscare podcast, I’ll be chatting with celebrities and supporters of the charity who have forged a life, often away from Scotland, and discussing the ups and downs that can bring. On the podcast today is bestselling crime author Alice Clark-Platts. Before Alice turned to writing, she was a human rights lawyer dealing with cases all over the world. In addition, we chat about growing up in London with media parents, what attracted her to law, her expat life having lived for over 10 years in Singapore, and, most importantly, we talk about her books: the three DI Erica Martin novels, the superb but harrowing Flower Girls that really made her name, and her current novel, The Cove.

Scotscare: for Scots in London in need of support, financial, practical, or emotional help.

In this conversation, Alice discusses her Scottish lineage on her father’s side, growing up in London, her childhood experiences, her parents’ careers in acting and writing, and her own journey from being a lawyer to becoming a successful author.

Hi Alice,

Hello! Thank you for doing the Scotscare podcast.

Thank you for having me, it’s great to be here.

Now, you’ve got Scottish lineage on your father’s side, but you’re very much a Londoner because you grew up in Balham. Do you still identify yourself as a Londoner after all these years?

Oh, absolutely, yeah. London’s my city. But, my dad is a Mackay, so that’s where the Scottish part comes in.

Growing up in Balham, surrounded by 8 million people, I’m curious about how that shaped you as a person. I find London quite terrifying, coming from Glasgow, but you grew up with the multicultural melting pot from day one and probably went to school amongst all that hustle and bustle.

Yeah, and I mean, I know all of them, all 8 million of them! They’re all very good friends (laughs). Well, I guess it’s just what you’re used to, isn’t it? From the age of 11, I was making my way across London, jumping on tubes and buses. I was just very used to the tube map, bus routes, and trains. I loved having that freedom, and London really became my stomping ground.

Alice Clark-Platts: Back then, we had the freedom to just leave the house, and I’d see my mother in the evening after school. We’d go off to the parks, go to McDonald’s, and it was really good fun.

Marcus: It’s changed so much now. I have a 10-year-old, Rafe, I was talking to Rafe the other day, and I told him I used to go to school on my own when I was younger than him. He asked if I lived really near the school and if I had to cross any roads. I said I did, but it was a different time back then.

When I was about 10, I would ask my mom and dad what time I had to be back home, and they’d say by the time the streetlights came on. That’s how I knew when to be back in the house.

My son Noah is going to be 14 this year, and he’s out and about today because his teachers are on strike. But I get really scared for him when he’s running around on his own or on his bike. It’s just not the same as when we were kids.

Alice Clark-Platts: I remember walking down my road to catch the train to go to school and there’d be a flasher at the end of my road. It happened quite a lot, and you’d just sort of go, “Oh, there’s the flasher,” and carry on.

Marcus: It seems like it was a different time. My son, Noah, is going to be 14 this year, and I get scared for him when he’s out and about on his own. It’s just not the same as when we were kids.

Alice Clark-Platts: Absolutely, it was a different time. My mother is an actor, and my father is a writer. I grew up in a very creative household, but my parents didn’t have steady incomes. I was very aware that when my mom got a job, she would often be going away for a period of time because she would be in a play somewhere.

Marcus: That’s interesting. I think growing up in a creative household must have had an impact on your own career choices and interests.

Alice Clark-Platts: As I was growing up, I was aware that my dad, Malcolm McKay, was quite successful. He had a lot of television work and there was a period of great success for him. It was very exciting. He wrote a play called “Air Base,” which was first in the theater and then made as a BBC drama.

Alice Clark-Platts: It was about American fighter pilots on a base in the UK, and it caused quite a stir. Mary Whitehouse complained about it, and questions were even asked in Parliament. My dad went on BBC breakfast and met Selena Scott, which was all quite glamorous.

Marcus: That’s interesting. But as you were growing up in a house of artists and creatives, you chose to become a lawyer. Did your parents ever question your decision to pursue a more conventional career?

Alice Clark-Platts: I think there was a bit of a comparison between me and Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous. I lived with my mum, and she was a bit like the Ab Fab character. I was always quite straight-laced, making sure everything was tidy and sorted. I guess my decision to become a lawyer was sort of a natural extension of my personality.

um and I think just sort of growing up when I went I went to Durham University and I I

did social sciences I did politics I did philosophy anthropology I was always loved English I mean I always read loads

I mean I love loved going to the theater and all that kind of stuff but I think I was just really Keen to get involved in

kind of politics really and sort of NGO work I think that was kind of where

I just sort of I think I’d seen as I say this kind of like sporadic income stream

coming into our house and I’d seen how sort of there was you

know that insecurity really and I think I’d wanted to not have that I think I

was quite Keen to have like a steady job and I you know I didn’t I I didn’t have that

burning ambition to be on the stage to be a performer and so

I wanted to get into something that was just going to be a bit more kind of secure I think secure but heavyweight as

well because I was reading that when you became a human rights lawyer one of your early cases was part of the

team uh the U the UN criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Prosecuting those responsible

for Rwandan Genocide I mean that must have been phenomenal insight to Pure Evil at a

very early stage of your career yeah well that was I went out to Tanzania to Arusha um to work uh yeah

for for the UN over there just for a few months that was um I just started work for the UK

government actually um uh as a litigator um over here and then I got a posting

over there um as a separate thing but um I mean I was only really I was like a

little baby lawyer at that stage so it wasn’t like I was you know I was no a malcluding place but um it was a

fantastic experience and it was um yeah it was really really interesting and I mean that was that was where my

interest was was the these cars yeah it was quite heavyweight and I was really interested in the work that I was doing

for the government and I was you know I did this Masters in human rights law and I like that was where I was really

I loved it I loved all of that work um but it obviously made you want to go forward rather than seeing uh you know

as you said as a baby lawyer as a novice going in and thinking this is horrible this this this evil is awful I don’t

want to be part of this like you know it wasn’t emotionally overwhelming for you at that point No in fact I remember

um fergal Keane the journalist going in when I was in Arisha you know he was

giving evidence at the tribunal and he was very upset because he’d been there during the genocide and he was

um you know he was having to testify and he was like you know really kind of psyching himself to go up because I

found him in the corridor right before he was about to go in and I just started fangirling over him going like oh fergal

Keel I think you’re amazing like can I just say how much I love your books and I just like and he was just like could

you just go away please so no I was actually wasn’t overwhelmed

by it at all I would I just found it all very interesting and um just I thought it was a great experience really yeah I

always did you always feel on the side of right did you always feel on the side of justice so did you ever feel compromised or maybe maybe the question

is that I always find with writing and life there’s so much Nuance but the law tends

to be rather black and white doesn’t it well it’s a really good question I mean I was actually working for the judges so

I was sort of listening to both sides and was kind of you know helping the

judges kind of reach their decisions um I had friends of mine that were working on the defense team and I think

they had a very interesting time of it um but often what I was doing was

transcribing witness statements and I did I remember doing this job so well in

in that little in my little office in Arusha in these Dusty African roads and

um and transcribing these like verbal testimonies that have been given I remember thinking to myself then gosh

it’s so easy for me to just twist this in the way that I write them down because of the way that I heard it I

heard the way they had given the evidence but the way that I write it somebody

reading it I can make this theme one way or another

and I think at that it was then it really struck me how important it is to

you know for me as the judge’s assistant was to be very neutral but also there’s

the power of the written word really if you’re thinking about a job change

Scott’s gear can help we offer grants for Scots in London retraining for a new

career or a study for the qualifications they need

and at this point you were still UK based and it wasn’t until am I right in thinking it wasn’t until you moved to

Singapore you relocated to Singapore with your husband for a job change and

was it at this point you said now did you give up law or were you still practicing law or was at this

point you said this is this is when I could have a go at being a full-time writer

um yeah so we moved my husband got a secondment for two years basically to

Singapore just as I was pregnant with my youngest um and so I thought

great you know go and have a baby there and have some maternity leave and just essentially take a bit of a career break

and then um so I ended up teaching law in Singapore at the University and doing a

bit of kind of voluntary work at a local women’s rights NGO over there and then

the two years passed and I was supposed to come back we were all supposed to come back and then it just ended up you

know my husband got taken on by another firm and at this point I had actually started writing just for my own

enjoyment and I’d started writing a novel just to see if I could and that

ended up you know finding an agent finding a publisher and then

then that’s just sort of how it came about it wasn’t really that I ever sat down and said do you know what I’m going to give up

the law and I’m going to now become a career novelist it was um it just sort

of happened and when you did that when you I just the thing that I I wanted to ask you is when you sat down and you

decided I’m going to write a book was it because of your law background that you thought I’m going to write a

crime fiction book or did you ever think I might write a chiclet book or I might write a Sci-Fi book or was was there

always One Direction you were going in yes crime fiction because I wanted to write something that

um I that I read that I loved and it was kind of like a challenge to myself that

I wanted to see if I could do it because I’d always read Agatha Christie or

Patricia Cornwell or you know things like that and so I would thought to myself you know how

how easy is it how hard is it you know could I do it and so um

I basically just I I was coming I was sitting on a on the tube or the MRT as

they call it in Singapore and coming home from a concert actually one night and I wrote the first paragraph of my

first book bitter fruits and that that first Power offers always stayed the

same and um it just kind of went on from there so your first three books bitter

fruits to die for and the taken all have the same lead character di Erica Martin

right yes I wondered about this because do you think it’s harder to write a

female lead than it is to write a male lead and my thoughts were because a male leads like especially in

crime fiction when you think of somebody like Rebus you know they can be more downtrodden they can be more depressed

they can be more alcoholic and I just I wonder if that just wouldn’t be

tolerated in a female lead character oh I don’t know I mean Martin my character

is pretty grumpy um

she’s not an alcoholic because although she does like a whiskey um it never occurred to me to write a

man to be honest with you although I did deliberately call her di Martin which I got into lots of trouble

about um people had very strong opinions about that well because as I wanted to yeah

because the man’s name I wanted her to have um I wanted it to be sort of gender-neutral name I didn’t really I

didn’t really want you to know whether she was a man or woman I didn’t see that it was important yeah do you do you

think crime fiction is still too dominated by men or do you like you know I read a lot online about trying to get

more parity for female crime fiction readers look I think if you’re writing if you’re writing a book you’ve just got

to have an affinity with your character and I mean I I just know as a writer you

will just start writing somebody and they’ll you know you can’t help who they

turn out to be you know I think after you those three books you wrote a book called the flower girls which was I

don’t know what the phrase would be I’m not going to say it’s a step up because it wasn’t you know it wasn’t better than your other book so your other books

weren’t as good as this but it was a different take because it dealt with the mother of a child so it was certainly a

lot more emotionally hard hitting and I kind of wondered what

was this something that you were drawn to did you think this was was just a fascinating subject because a lot of

it’s about culpability about can a child be held responsible for killing another child so I wonder if we are where was

the kernel of that idea for you well it really went back to back to my kind of

school days when I was stomping around London um when I must have been about 15 and uh

sort of mid 90s and it was the murder of Jamie Folger

um and the uh his his murderers um Robert Thompson and John venables and

and I was a teenager when that happened and as with most of the country who will

remember it you know I was deeply shocked by it and it had always stayed

with me and then when I when I got into law and I’m not a criminal lawyer but um I was a judicial review lawyer and the

judicial review is where judges basically review decisions of

public law bodies so and one of those is are the parole board

and um so somebody like Thompson and venables you know when they came up for

parole you know they would have been given you know that that can be reviewed

um by a judge if it’s if it’s appealed anyway I got really interested in the

fact that these boys were considered at 10 years old they were they were tried as adults

um for for Jamie bulger’s murder and that they were released when they were 18 and you know I know I didn’t want it

I didn’t want to talk about that crime in particular but it just really struck me that that you know when do we decide

one that a child can be tried as an adult and to

when when do you ever kind of like when can you ever be forgiven for that like

when have you served your time you know can you ever be or is or is it never enough you know do you have to be

locked up forever for something as kind of abhorrent as that crime was so it wasn’t that I wanted to really

come down on the side of any of those arguments but I wanted to just kind of well I just found them really

interesting as debates and I just wanted to kind of write about them so um

so that was the those were the things that I found interesting so I created a novel that kind of dealt with those

issues it’s interesting you talk about forgiveness there because I think there’s probably forgiveness on two levels that’s forgiveness in the eyes of

the law if it is forgiveness or you served your time but there’s also forgiveness in the eyes of society and probably society

would never forgive for for the crime of killing a child especially nowadays where things tend to

get hyped up a lot more through social media exactly and so the characters that

I have in the book you know I do have a family member and I do have you know I

have I have everybody across the board you know like all of those points of view are are represented so then it’s

just it’s you know it’s kind of the readers just gonna see what they think

about it really is that when you write something like this is it difficult for you as a mum of

two girls to to emotionally detach from it at the end of the day and when you shut the laptop lid and you’re going to

meet the tea for them does that does it linger with you no I think I’m quite

good at kind of um compartmentalizing these things um you know ultimately I’m writing

fiction and I’m not writing about my children and no I’m quite good at kind

of putting that to one side and that you know I am telling a story and

it is ultimately a story so it’s it you know and it and it is when when you

learn the craft of writing a novel you kind of you do you know you know about the mechanics of

it as well so it you know it’s not I’m not fooling myself you know like I I

know what I’m doing so it’s kind of no I can do that did you know scotscare can

help second and even third generation Scots break the cycle of deprivation key Services include Financial grants mental

health support social events for the Scots community and more

flower girls was a big success for you there’s loads of advertising around it it was translated into multiple

languages the audiobook was read by Emilia Fox the actress and Silent Witness and yeah I was wondering if even

though at this point this was your fourth book did you have a I’ve arrived moment did you feel as if okay this is a

this is a career step up yeah yeah definitely I mean I think yeah it was very exciting all of that and like you

know seeing posters on the tube and there was a big theme Waterloo Station and yeah it was was really good fun but

also I just I think I felt like you know I knew what I was doing a bit more you know as a writer which is good in itself

you know I think you feel like you you kind of you’d maybe lose that imposter syndrome a little bit and you you know

you feel a bit more kind of valid or validated well do you have any self

don’t know as a writer or when you’re writing do you think oh that’s that’s good oh no no don’t ever think that you

didn’t know you think that’s rubbish most of the time um I was wondering how somebody who

like you know five books in what what is your edit process like when you’re working with your publisher are they

hard on you to do I I read an interview with you where you were talking about in the early books that you would lose

whole story lines to editors and they would take stuff out I mean it’s it’s that difficult not to take that

personally because that’s probably weeks or months of your life yeah but you can’t take it personally I mean like you

know you’re all working to the same end which is to make the book better

so I mean an electricity really really disagree with something

um I mean you have to kind of you know sort of take your view on it I mean my my

hardest editor has always been my agent who I love very dearly

um Ariella but she she is the um she’s hot

yeah something works or something doesn’t work yes yes yes and then she

look then she’ll say in a very lovely ton of recipe but I think we’ve really taken a step back here oh really yeah

then I have to go and have a large glass of wine and then remind myself that you know that either she is just doing it

for the good of me I’ve spoken a couple of it uh writers Christopher brookmeyer

and Amy McCullough and somebody like that who said to me they no longer read their own reviews because they just

don’t want to know do you read your reviews yeah I don’t mind if somebody says this is

not so good or I didn’t enjoy that are you okay with that you can you can to use your word compartmentalize that one

yes yeah so there’s no accounting for Taste does there I suppose are you disciplined are you

are you do you sit down every day and you go this is I’m going to do x amount of words I just I certainly lost my

discipline I mean I used to work at ITN years ago when I used to I used to work hard really hard I would write loads of

interviews a day and you know and then go to the pub and then come back in and write loads more interviews and nowadays

I find it hard to do six or seven questions for an interview before I go out I’ll just empty the dishwasher or

have a cup of tea are you able to stay there and do it I am I know what you mean though there’s you know I I do get

quite persuaded by you know watching Happy Valley reruns or whatever

um so it is you know I am but I am I have to be because if I don’t do it

nobody else is going to do it so it’s quite an isolated existence you know you said very isolated you said Christmas

parties are a bit lonely when you’re a writer because it’s basically you and your own kitchen with a glass of wine

yeah and the Spotify playlist that I’ve made myself

I’m doing an edit of a first draw the first draft I find is is the best bit

because that’s just like if I could get a thousand words down a day I then I’m happy and I’m just making

stuff up and it doesn’t even necessarily have to make that much sense so there’s a first time for you what kind of

percentage finished of the final book would you say your first draft is do you just get through to a hundred thousand

words and then then start to refine the product a bit more like seventy thousand and

then yeah but then I’ll do another another draft myself of that which wouldn’t

wouldn’t take too long and then I would send it to either editorial agent depending on what’s going on and then

I’d get to where I am now which is a really substantive edit

um based on their notes which you know will be quite heavy weather yeah that’s

the bit that I I think must be difficult because you’re going back over it and come back over it that’s the point you really have to knuckle down I suppose to

get to get to your final product yeah and you have to cut the lot you know let’s talk about the Cove which is the

book that you have out at the moment and this is set on a tropical island and two families who don’t really know each

other all that well decide to go on holiday together have you ever done that I can’t imagine doing that because I’m

relatively I’m not very social at the at the best of times and when I go on quality I

normally that’s why I go on holiday because I’m so burned out that I just want to I want to sit behind a newspaper

and and know nobody to speak to me so I can’t imagine going on holiday with

another family that would kill me well this is this stems from living in

Singapore for 10 years or so I did and when you’ve got young children

going on holiday with another family who also have young children is quite a good thing to do because there’s safety in

numbers and the kids can kind of entertain each other which leaves you a

bit of time to lie on a sunbed and drink gin tonic so

um yeah we did do that quite a lot I mean it’s not that you don’t know this for other family at all it’s just that

you perhaps you know you’ve not been on holiday with them and you perhaps don’t know everything about them and that’s

that’s very typical of expat life that you you know you kind of present this sort of facade

to the world but you’ve never been to their home back in the UK you know like

you don’t know really where they’ve come from so yeah that that’s quite a familiar scenario I like the setting

because it was a tropical island setting I think would you ever write anything or would you ever start a story with the

idea that it has to be more than a book like would you does it always just exist

on the page for you or would you ever think well do you know what I’d like to sell this as a screenplay or I’d like to

sell this as a film or a TV series so therefore I’m going to set it here do

you do you ever think like that or I mean I would love to sell any of my books as a film or screenplay or

television series if anyone would like to take them up as that

um but no I can’t say I because I am that sort of like devious

about it and that I think oh this will make you know no but this is all going

to sit on an oil rig and there’s a killer on the loose yeah yeah yeah no I love that one if you want thank you

uh you you said reruns of Happy Valley I think happy Valley’s great I think so brilliant isn’t it right now it’s super

tight and I think the acting very good is great do you like watching that kind of stuff or is it too much of a

bossman’s holiday no I love it I love it and in fact um she Sally Wainwright wrote a

fantastic police series I don’t know if you’ve seen called Scott and Bailey

um have you seen that so there are two female leads isn’t it yes yeah I really enjoyed it I never realized that was the

same person yeah can you tell us about the new book the one that you’re editing now can you give us a

a general idea of what that’s going to be about this one actually has got a good tagline if anyone wants to make a

film of it it’s called it it’s not called it’s it’s um

sort of Downton Abbey meets succession oh so as it said in the past there’s a

historical oh no it’s not it just what that means is it’s just like in sort of

like British country house but it’s kind of like really rich and then there’s

lots of murders that take place in it I like this and it’s all to do with money when will this be when have you

got to deliver this are you under under the under pressure to deliver this now no I’m just not really

um the paperback of the Cove comes out in April and so I’ll be

hoping to get it done before then and how long does it take from that kind of

delivery of you hope to get it done to that when the hardback of uh down tone and succession comes out

well it’s it really depends on sorting tenders and you know who else has got

books coming out and things like that so I don’t know it’s quite hard to predict really so the paperback of the corve is

out in April Alice thank you for joining me on the Scottsdale podcast today it’s been it’s been lovely to talk uh books

and flashers and thank you so much for having me Marcus

it’s been really fun bye-bye bye thank you

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