Lynda La Plante on staying mentally alert, making your own highlights and chilling with reality TV

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Lynda La Plante will be 80 next year – but she calls this decade “the new 50s”.

“There’s this bunch of incredibly old actresses who walk the stage, there’s the wonderful 85-year-old Glenda Jackson doing King Lear, and you think, are we the new 50-year-olds? There’s Amanda Barrie, 86 years old who goes to India with Miriam Margolyes, 80 years old [for The Real Marigold Hotel series]. The wonderful actress of Widows, Ann Mitchell, leaves for Hungary to make a film and she is 82 years old! And it’s like we’re the new 50s.

The best-selling mystery author of no less than 40 novels – including Cold Shoulder and The Murder Files, as well as the hit TV series Prime Suspect with Dame Helen Mirren – says there’s ‘no way’ she is retiring. “I will continue to do so until I release the earth. Because I always learn new things all the time. I love it, it’s very exciting, it occupies my brain.

“All my friends are the same,” she adds. “I think mental health is absolutely linked to my job. It keeps you very mentally alert.

(Gemma Day/AP)

And physically, she feels good too. “I’m one of those people who gets up and walks around, I get up at 6 a.m. every morning,” she says – despite sometimes having insomnia (the middle of the night is often when she “works the plot of his novels).

The 79-year-old’s latest book, Vanished, is the third in Jack Warr’s detective series, begins “a rather testy investigation of an eccentric woman” and ends up being a murder investigation and hunt for a suspect who seems to disappear into thin air.

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A certain solitude is an integral part of the profession of novelist, but for La Plante, that does not mean silence: “When I work, I am full of energy, I talk, I follow the characters, I laugh, cry, I act. Sometimes people have come in and been quite shocked!

La Plante and her dog Hugo (Lynda La Plante/PA)

The writing process can evoke surprising and sometimes painful parts of one’s own life. “You’re using things in your own life, and you suddenly realize you’re writing a little section or segment of your life that you hadn’t paid much attention to. Like an ectopic pregnancy suddenly appears in the new novel I’m writing, and I clearly remember, I mean, I didn’t know what it was. La Plante became a mom at 57, after many years of fertility treatments, going through menopause at 32 years and a divorce, when she adopted her son, Lorcan, now 18 (who still lives with her in Richmond, London).

You might think crafting dark storylines, often involving murderous psychopaths, violent crimes, drug dealers, steel detectives, and complex forensic evidence (all crafted with rigorous real-world research) would do mental havoc, but La Plante is adamant. does not affect it. “I’m able to lift it with humor,” she says.

Plus, “every novel writes us a learning curve” — and that’s what really drives her. She also hosts a podcast called Listening To The Dead, in which she talks to scientists she has worked with in research over the years. “This is a very informative podcast for anyone interested in crime. You can hear me learning, still asking questions about blood spatter, forensic details and fiber.

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His chosen method of disconnecting from crime, however, might surprise people. “I watch very strange programs – like My 600-lb Life [a weight loss show on TLC]. I am an avid observer! There’s something absolutely exquisite about the way they fought for their lives, and you’re in therapy with them,” she says.

‘Another one I like is Curvy Brides’ [Boutique, also TLC]. I love it. The two women who run Curvy Brides are so therapeutic, they are so warm and understanding.

(Gemma Day/AP)

When it comes to taking care of her diet, she doesn’t want to waste a lot of time cooking. “One of the most important things in my life is finding the self-cooking chicken in the bag,” she laughs. “I try to eat one good meal a day, I’m obsessed with green beans, I eat a lot of green beans.”

Walking his enormous dog Hugo, a Borzoi, is his only form of exercise and brings him enormous happiness. But his battle for his life has dominated La Plante’s over the past year – he suffered and underwent surgery for a punctured lung after swallowing pampas grass.

“I can’t believe this dog has created so many emotions in me, so many tears, so many prayers. All the dogs I’ve had in my life, nothing compares to this one creature – he’s so sweet and so loving,” she said. “And now he’s eating like a hungry donkey but he’s back!”

So what does it take to look as fabulous as La Plante at 79 (besides dog walks and green beans)?

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“I slap on a bit of Nivea or whatever,” she says, when asked if she has a strict skincare regimen – and she hasn’t been to a hairdresser for 20-30 years. “My sister cuts my hair,” she laughs, holding her enviably thick blonde tresses. “She lobbed four inches. I said, ‘I just wanted a haircut, what did you do?’

La Plante even makes her own wicks: “You know when you see them with aluminum foil? I thought, ‘I can do this!’ So I went to Sainsbury’s, bought the foil, bought the peroxide, mixed it up. I made about two of them out of foil and thought, “Oh, that’s very boring,” so I grabbed the toothbrush.

“So I have very, very minor beauty aids of any description. You could pump me full of Botox and I still have a shriveled little face, so what’s the point?” she jokes. “The only thing I have once in a while is a wonderful massage.”

Disparu by Lynda La Plante is published by Zaffre. Available now.

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