On the night that Princess Diana died, I had just flown back from Los Angeles and, jet-lagged, was finding it hard to sleep. An hour or two before the death was officially announced, a newscaster on the BBC World Service, in the description they supplied for those few people in the universe who might not know who she was, slipped up and used the past tense. It was immediately clear that the crash was way more than the fender-bender that, around 3am, was being reported.
In August 1997, I hadn’t really worked as a journalist for several years, and, as a freelance, never had worked in a newsroom (although I’d been in several), and so my reaction surprised me. I longed to get on the phone and start writing before the story fully broke.
In the days that followed, and as the scale of national grieving filled the front pages, I felt that my own reaction had been ghoulish and cynical. Yet I couldn’t disown that spontaneous rush of excitement that this was such a great story!
Like the scent of battle in the nostrils of a retired war-horse, the nose for a good story never leaves you. That instinct became the life force for Ivo Sweatman, the scabrous tabloid crime reporter in my new novel Good Girls Don’t Die.
I did once write regularly for two Murdoch-owned papers – The Times and Today – and was once in a room with him as my features editor was ordered either to make a call she regarded as distasteful and unnecessary, or clear her desk. I hate everything that News International has done to the British press. But I can’t condemn Ivo Sweatman for his war-horse instincts: there’s a treasured part of myself deep within him that makes me forgive his sins.