PUBLISHED: 11:55 01 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:55 01 December 2015
Catherine Larner meets author Linda Davies, who survived kidnap and finds solace in Southwold
Can you measure someone’s strength of character by their attitude to the sea?
“I have a rule that I have to swim in the sea every month,” says thriller writer and children’s author Linda Davies. “In the summer I go in pretty much every day, but sometimes it’s only once in February. It’s a way of having a quick bit of adrenalin buzz in the winter months – you have to summon your ‘chi’ to go in there!”
Linda lives a five-minute drive from Southwold. The town was first a holiday destination when the family was living in London and then Dubai, but now it is very much a full-time home.
“We absolutely love it. It has everything we need and it feels like a haven, an escape. It is still an undiscovered secret in a way.”
For Linda this is no glib, throwaway statement. Ten years ago she and her husband were kidnapped while sailing in the Middle East. They were held hostage for almost two weeks and were threatened with their lives. Our corner of Britain certainly seems a refuge when you’ve lived through that ordeal.
“When we were released, I was obviously euphoric to get back to the children, but then I was quite depressed as I got myself together again,” she says.
Linda had a degree from Oxford, a successful career in investment banking behind her, a new life as a bestselling thriller writer and a happy marriage with three young children. Then she was kidnapped.
“For me, it had been all about working hard and doing well in order to have a lovely life, but achievements mean nothing when you are a hostage because you are powerless. It shows you what is important, what you care about. When I was released I just wanted to go into my children’s rooms and see them sleeping. Just to be able to see them was amazing.”
It was eight years before Linda felt able to write fully about her experience, prompted by a friend. Even then she found the memories hard to relive. Her account of the experience, Hostage: Kidnapped on the High Seas, was written in four months, published last summer to coincide with the release of her latest thriller, Ark Storm, about a power struggle to control a catastrophic weather event.
“I love living in the world that I create and I like intense feelings, which is why I like going in the sea the whole year round.”
All her books have strong female characters. “I write about women in extreme peril, women catapulted from a seemingly safe world into an extreme situation, falling off the wrong side of the tightrope.”
And she looks to her own life to inspire the characters she creates. Perhaps this is most evident with her first book, Nest of Vipers, which was inspired by her work in banking and explored the damage that could be done by insider trading. It sold two million copies and has been optioned as a film.
For her latest book, Longbow Girl, for young reader, aged 10 upwards, Linda is drawing on earlier memories.
It’s a thrilling adventure set in Wales with archery, horses, adventure, time travel, romance and a strong female character, called Merry Owen.
The family farm is struggling and when Merry discovers some buried treasure containing an ancient Welsh document, it looks like their troubles may be over. But sinister and mystical work is at play and Merry travels back in time to the period of Henry VIII to save her ancestors. She has to use all her skills as a horsewoman, as well as her expertise in archery. Merry is very much the young Linda Davies with her beloved Welsh pony and her bow and arrow.
“My father gave me a bow when I was eight and I’ve always loved it. This slender piece of wood with a string which is a lethal weapon. You do almost feel that you are stepping back in time when you pick it up.
“My father brought me up like a boy. He taught me how to punch so that you don’t break your thumb, to carry your own bodyweight, and how to get out of a burning building. I was always getting into fights when I was a girl. And he taught me to look at life from another perspective – what if this happens, what if that happens? I think that helped turn me into a writer.”