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chaos theory; LIVING LIFE TO THE FULL As forensic favourite Kay Scarpetta returns for a 24th instalment, her creator and best-selling thriller writer Patricia Cornwell talks about how the dramas in her own life have given her a thicker skin, why she was happy to ignore her 60th birthday and the perks of plastic surgery.


BLONDE, blue-eyed and toned, thanks to a strict exercise regime, Patricia Cornwell looks much younger than her 60 years.

As one of the world's best-selling crime writers, with novels translated into 36 languages and sold in more than 120 countries, staying fit has helped her master the skills she writes about in her novels featuring forensic sleuth Dr Kay Scarpetta.

Cornwell learned how to fly helicopters because Lucy, Scarpetta's tech-savvy niece, is a qualified helicopter pilot.

The author is also a competent scuba diver and has been on firing ranges to try out the latest weaponry used by her imaginary killers.

She's learned more skills for her latest novel, Chaos - but I'm not going to give the game away.

It's the 24th book in the series and revolves around a 26-year-old cyclist's death. At first, it looks like she was killed after being struck by lightning.

But, of course, things are not what they seem and the investigation becomes more complex when Scarpetta receives a flurry of bizarre poems from an anonymous cyber bully.

Readers who love forensic thrillers should be familiar with Cornwell's work - fast-paced, sometimes gory, always enlightening and frequently featuring cutting-edge technologies enabling her fictional killers, and crime-busters, to do what they do.

She said: "My stock in trade has always been to show the technical side of how you can work very unusual crimes. The fun part for me as I go into my third decade of the series is, 'What can we do with technology?' "Just as good guys can be innovative with the use of technology in solving crimes, bad people are going to be just as innovative in what they can do with technology to cause bad things to happen."

Cornwell has spent millions of dollars on meticulous research for both her fiction and fact-based work.

She wrote a book on Jack the Ripper - Portrait of a Killer - pointing the finger at renowned Victorian painter Walter Sickert after buying his writing desk and 32 of his works to have them tested for DNA.

She also has a team of consultants - experts in different aspects of crime - on her payroll and has amassed an extensive array of lab equipment and weaponry.

Cornwell said wryly: "I've spent more on my research and the materials that go with it than I've ever spent on clothing and jewellery, but that doesn't mean I don't have really nice clothing and jewellery.

"But I'm not going to spend a million dollars on a ring. I'd rather have a helicopter. I've owned four helicopters but they were used in my research, to write with authority about that particular subject, as opposed to having a $60million beach hut somewhere.

"But we all know I'm not thrifty."

The Miami-born author's life has seen almost as much drama as her books.

Accounts of her miserable childhood, struggles with anorexia and alcohol and her outing as a lesbian, as well as legal battles and public fights with ex-lovers, have been well-documented.

Her father, a lawyer, walked out on Christmas Day, ignoring five-year-old Patricia's attempts to cling to his leg.

Her mother, who moved to an evangelical community in North Carolina, down the road from famous preacher Billy Graham and his wife, later suffered from depression and spent time in a psychiatric hospital, and Patricia was fostered by an abusive woman who bullied and terrified her.

While studying English at college, she fell in love with her male professor, Charlie Cornwell. They married, but divorced after 10 years.

Cornwell did have gay encounters subsequently but kept her lesbianism a secret - until she was outed by several so-called friends who informed the media.

She said: "I had a lot of really difficult publicity early on, with pretty awful articles that outed me in lots of different ways. That wasn't fun and it wasn't right but it gave me a much thicker skin and I got much better at just being OK about it.

"When it all first happened, I didn't leave my house for a month. I was afraid to go out of my door, I was so horrified and humiliated.

"My mother was upset. She didn't know about the gay stuff. I was in a very conservative city. I was forced to deal with it when I wasn't even in a relationship at the time. It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever been through."

Today, Cornwell - who has been married to Harvard neuroscientist Staci Gruber for 10 years and now lives in Boston - is philosophical about it all.

As a former reporter, she understands the nature of news.

She said: "I've always courted publicity and the media because it's a way of selling what you want people to read. You have to take the bumps with that.

"I had exposure in the media when my first book Postmortem was published in 1990. The reason it became wellknown was because a prominent bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, banned it because they thought it was so violent. "This whole series has been born in controversy and my life, weirdly, seems to follow that. But my experiences made it very attractive for me to retreat into my imagination from an early age, and I wouldn't be the person I am today if I'd had a very different upbringing."

She recently turned 60 but didn't want to celebrate.

Cornwell said: "I forbade anyone to throw me a secret party. I wanted to have a normal day because I wanted to feel that my life is going on as usual.

"I had a quiet dinner with family, and that was more because they wanted to; I probably would have just pretended it didn't happen."

She's come around to the idea, however, adding: "Once you get out of your 50s, you know what's ahead.

"I've been around a long time and I have a right to say and do pretty much what I want. I don't worry about stuff as much as I used to. I feel a certain freedom that I never felt before."

She still worries about looking older though, and has invested in Botox and cosmetic surgery.

She revealed: "I've had plenty, trust me, I'm a very expensive person. By the time I die, I probably won't decompose, honey, I'll just lie on top of the earth."

Cornwell is in the early stages of the next Scarpetta novel, and has a revised Jack the Ripper book out in January.

She added: "There's also a movie in the works and I've got a couple of television shows I'm trying to make happen. That's how I celebrate being 60 - I get busier."

? Chaos, published by Harper Collins, is available now, PS20.

'I've always courted publicity because it's a way of selling what you want people to read. You have to take the bumps with that'


IN THE LIMELIGHT Cornwell with JK Rowling and Katie Price at a book awards in London in 2008

IN CONTROL Cornwell learned to fly a helicopter as Scarpetta's niece is a pilot

PRIME SUSPECT Patricia Cornwell believes Walter Sickert, right, was Jack the Ripper
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 17, 2016
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