Patricia Cornwell on how writing helped her take back control of her life

My guest this week is the crime writing legend, Patricia Cornwell. Patricia wrote her first novel about forensic pathologist kay scarpetta in 1990. Called Postmortem, it was such a hit it became the first book ever to win all four major crime awards on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year. (It also scared the bejesus out of me.) But Kay Scarpetta was more than a hit, she was a breakthrough. Because mad as it might sound now, if you were looking for a crime novel where the female characters were actually alive in the late 1980s, you weren’t exactly spoilt for choice.

Now 39 books and 100 million copies later, Patricia’s 27th Kay Scarpetta novel, Unnatural Death, is about to hit bookshops and the one and only Jamie Lee Curtis is bringing her to our screens.

Patricia zoomed from her home in Boston, where she lives with her wife Staci to talk about, well, everything. We ran the full gamut from gun crime and serial killers to how writing books enabled her to take back control after a difficult childhood, feeling like a failure and the danger of self-loathing. We also discussed how she narrowly escaped being a minister’s wife, marriage second time around and the enormous debt she owes Jamie Lee Curtis. 

If you loved this episode, you might also like my conversations with Val McDermid and Barbara Kingsolver.

* You can buy all the books mentioned in this podcast at The Shift bookshop on, including Unnatural Death by Patricia Cornwell and the book that inspired this podcast, The Shift: how I lost and found myself after 40 - and you can too, by me.

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