Minette Walters’ first full-length crime novel, The Ice House, was published in 1992. It took two and a half years to write and was rejected by numerous publishing houses before Macmillan bought it for £1,250. Within four months, it had won the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey award for best first novel and had been snapped up by 11 foreign publishers. Minette was the first crime/thriller writer to win three major prizes with her first three books. Her second novel, The Sculptress (inspired in part by an encounter Walters had as a volunteer prison visitor), won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award. Her third novel, The Scold’s Bridle, then won the CWA Gold Dagger, giving her a unique treble. Minette is now published in almost 40 countries and has sold more than 25 million copies of her books worldwide.
Forward to the past
When Minette discovered the bubonic plague entered England only a few miles from her 18th-century Dorset manor, she was intrigued, and her curiosity led her to write her first book in a decade. Breaking away from crime writing, The Last Hours was her first historical novel. Set in 14th century Dorset at the time of the plague it took several years to research and write and is as exciting and readable as any of her psychological crime thrillers. Her recent third historical novel, The Swift and the Harrier, is set in 17th century Dorset, and explores the local impact of the English Civil War, with the extra enjoyment of a myriad of familiar places and names for Dorset residents to recognise.
In 2019 Minette was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset.
1. What’s your relationship with the Blackmore Vale (the loose North Dorset area, not us!)?
Well, I don’t have a strong link with North Dorset specifically … I went to school in Salisbury, and grew up visiting my friends’ homes across Dorset. I loved it.
We were living in Hampshire when our youngest was at school in Sherborne so we were always driving across and got to know the area very well (and we know Dorset’s Lord Lieutenant Angus Campbell and his wife Caroline, so we often pop over to Iwerne Minster.
But we ended up in West Dorset. Almost by accident – 23 years ago my mother and my husband Alec’s parents were all getting rather elderly, and lived far from each other (and from us). Looking after them was increasingly difficult, so eventually we invited them both to move with us – and we started the hunt for a good property with extra cottages. We wanted them to remain independent, but to be just a short walk away. We couldn’t find anything in Hampshire, but then we happened across Whitcombe, here in West Dorset – it’s the most magical house, and we’ve been here ever since.
2. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
Oh, I’m going to go to bed early to watch a Denzel (Washington) movie! Especially one directed by Tony Scott.
3. What was the last film you watched?
This might be controversial! I love movies, I watch an incredible number, and I do watch them over and over again, too. But I think it must be The Forever Purge.
It’s the most recent in the Purge series. I have a serious passion for action movies, and this was fantastically violent. It’s just full of action, blood and gore. I loved it – a very happy two hours!
4. What is your comfort meal?
OK, it’s Moules Mariniere but it has to be to MY recipe. Soften the onions in butter, then add the garlic, parsley, white wine, mussels, obviously, but also giant prawns, lobster, cream and served with homemeade bread. My idea of heaven.
5. Who’s your celebrity crush?
Judge Judy! She is the funniest woman, I love her humour. And she’s educational too. I would love to have dinner with her.
6. Cats or dogs?
Dogs. I’ve always had dogs. I have two golden retrievers at the moment, but I’ve never been without dogs.
My second favourite animals are chickens. We have lots, and they’re just terrific to simply watch and spend time with.
7. What shop can you not pass without going in?
Very few … I hate shopping! Although I do find it difficult to pass antique furniture shops. If there’s something in the window I like the look of, I’m in.
8. What would you like to tell 15-year-old you?
‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a boyfriend’
When I was a teenager I was surrounded by friends who I thought were prettier then me, and who had hordes of boys. In desperation I asked my brother to send me a Valentines card so I could pretend I had a boyfriend, and agreed I would do the same for him. I carefully signed his card with a question mark and sent it off, and the card I got back was signed ‘love, your brother’.
Not at ALL helpful!
You’re just a bag of hormones at that age, and worrying about your body image … and of course none of it matters. You’re so young at 15, it always works out OK in the end – I promise, I’ve been married 44 years now!
9. What’s your secret superpower?
Knowing what others are thinking! Especially my family. I always know. It drives them mad.
I do have imagination by the bucket, of course, which also helps. I actually can’t watch crime dramas with the family, I always spot the clues and solve the mystery far too soon, and then everyone tells me to be quiet as I exclaim ‘Oh, well, you know exactly what’s going to happen …’
10. What would you most like to be remembered for?
Simply my books, I think. I do genuinely hope they’ve given as much enjoyment to readers as I have had writing them.
11. What was the last gift you either gave someone, or received?
The artist Richard Wilkin is a friend of ours. He paints architecture and building interiors, and I asked him to paint the interior of Whitcombe Church. It’s still consecrated, but is owned by the Churches Conservation Trust. It’s a tiny church with the Victorian pews all stripped out so that it is a simple, open space exactly as it was designed. The painting is beautiful, it was a gift to my husband and it now hangs in our hallway.
12. The best crisps flavour?
Pringles. Barbecue flavoured ones.
13. And the best biscuit for dunking?
None! I HATE tea and I HATE biscuits!
14. Your top three most-visited websites?
- Google Maps – I’m forever looking up Dorset (Minette has already used Googlemaps twice during our call – Ed)
- Amazon – and no, I’m not ashamed!
I buy so many books, and through Amazon I can access all the old interesting ones which are no longer in print. I’m always being asked for tips by aspiring historical authors, and my biggest one is to go and read lots of non-fiction from the period.
Generally they’re no longer in print, but through Amazon you can access all the antiquarian bookshops across the country. I get the most exciting parcels arrive! All with old, well-thumbed books, with notes scribbled in the margins – just picking them up and starting to read I’m already immersed in history. It’s wonderful, everyone should do it.
15. Chip Shop Chips or Home Baked Cake?
I don’t really like sweet things, so chip shop chips please. Maybe a little salt and vinegar, but really I prefer them dipped in mayonnaise. Delicious.
16. Tell us about one of the best evenings you’ve had?
As a surprise for our 10th wedding anniversary, Alec booked us a weekend at Burgh Island. It’s an iconic landmark on its own tidal island off the Devon coast, entirely decorated in the Art Deco style. As well as the main house there is the Beach House – built in the ’30s as a writer’s retreat for Agatha Christie who wrote two novels while there, both set on the island (Evil Under the Sun and And Then There Were None). The dinner the night we arrived was literally unforgettable. The first course was pan-friend goose liver and it was just … melt in the mouth.
I’ll never forget it; I can still almost taste and feel it in my mouth.
It was followed up with duck, I think, and then a delicious orange, chocolate and cream dessert. I even remember we were drinking rioja … The whole meal was wonderful, and the evening was very special.
17. What in life is frankly a mystery to you?
Horses! They baffle me. We have a livery yard on our land, and there are always horses about. I do like them, but they are a mystery to me. I have never ridden one successfully, I always fall off. I’m happy to simply admire them from afar.
18. Your favourite quote?
It’s a Chinese proverb:
“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”
Isn’t it terrific?
It’s exactly the same thing as ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’, but it’s far more graphic. Who doesn’t want to see the bodies floating by?!
19. You have the power to pass one law tomorrow, uncontested. What will you do?
Oh so many things …
I think top of my list would be to make it a crime to be anonymous on the internet.
If you express an opinion then you should stand by it.
Honestly, the internet is probably the greatest gift to mankind since the wheel. The overwhelming good, the sheer opportunities it brings … Yet people just use it to be hideously abusive, there is a vile element filled with criminals and paedophiles, and data hackers think it’s their playground … it makes me so angry.