Interview: Lynda La Plante

Also known for writing the British crime drama Prime Suspect, Lynda La Plante has worked in the TV industry for over 40 years. Beginning her career on-screen in the 1960s Lynda is now a multi-award-winning screenwriter and author who's made a distinct mark with her own brand of crime drama.

Following the DVD release of Trial and Retribution's fifth series we caught up with Lynda to delve into the world of TV crime. If you read the interview carefully you could also be in with the chance of winning one of five copies of the crime thriller on DVD. Read below for more details. As both an actress and writer, you've been a part of the history of police-work on British television. What's you perception of how TV crime shows have changed over the last 40 years?

Lynda: I think crime shows have changed dramatically over the past 40 years. The major change has been in the authentication of the forensic and pathology input to solving crime. The success of the CSI series proves that the public have a great interest in the scientific side of crime solving. We can no longer accept for instance, that the police can determine from a crime scene that their victim died from a stab wound to the heart, from a six inch blade, that the killer was left handed and the victim died within six hours! We know it is not until the autopsy has been completed that they get this kind of information. Forensic techniques and psychological profiling now play such a major part in crime solving and therefore crime shows have had to develop to reflect these changes. Was it difficult, professionally, to transfer from being an actress to a writer?

Lynda: I did not find the transfer from being an actress to writer difficult in any way. I have found the training as an actress of great value for example when interviewing and researching and also when writing dialogue. If it doesn't have the ring of authenticity then I will rework scripts until I am confident it is going to lift off the page. Your first show as a writer was for children (The Kids from 47A). Is this something you'd like to return to?

Lynda: My first foray into writing was indeed a kids show and I thoroughly enjoyed it and would very much like to explore that genre again at some point. TV crime seems part of the very fabric of British Television history. Do you think we have a national obsession with crime?

Lynda: TV Crime shows have always been a major part, not only in British Television history but, worldwide. As a child I was obsessed with 'Elliot Ness', a wonderful crime show from the United States during the Al Capone era, but I do not think there is an "obsession" in crime related shows. I think it is simply that people are fascinated in the puzzle of "who done it" and a major part of the viewer's enjoyment is piecing that puzzle together. Do you get much feedback from real policemen and women?

Lynda: I work closely with the police and a team of scientific and legal advisors and none of my scripts are written without their input. I think because of this attention to detail and research I am often thanked for representing that world accurately. TV crime has gone through a bit of a renaissance in the US over the last few years. What's your opinion of shows like The Wire?

Lynda: I think US crime shows such as The Wire, CSI Miami/ New York/ Las Vegas, are terrific! The Profiler, NCIS, Law&Order; are all excellent shows and their success really proves that there is a very strong, intelligent viewing audience out there that enjoys them. Several of your dramas feature women surviving in a sexist, male dominated environment. Is that something you have experienced as a writer or actress?

Lynda: The fact I have used female detectives, as early as Prime Suspect, to show how they worked in a male dominated environment and how they survived is now slightly dated as women have moved up the ranks and are far more accepted than they were. Women also dominate the forensic and pathology side. For myself as a writer and an actress I can't really think that I have ever come across any kind of sexism. I have been fortunate to have success and encouragement from my contemporaries and for that I am very grateful. Is it more rewarding writing novels or television?

Lynda: There is no difference on the reward stakes whether I am writing a novel or a script. I find the freedom in writing a novel without the constraints of a filming budget very exciting, but at the same time when I return to work on a script having to 'cut the cloth' to a tight schedule and budget is also a very good exercise. Recently I have transferred my book Above Suspicion to the screen. Initially, adapting my own novel was exceptionally difficult, but then I started to really enjoy the process. How has motherhood affected your attitude to crime, and criminals?

Lynda: Being a mother has enhanced my life in so many ways. In relation to my attitude to crimes such as child abuse and the criminals that perpetrate these crimes, I can't really say motherhood changed my view this has always been something I have felt very strongly about, only now perhaps those emotions are closer to the surface. Do you have a favourite amongst the characters you've created for the small screen?

Lynda: I find it difficult to select one character that I have created as a favourite. I become very close to the actors that portray the roles, and eventually always write with them in mind. I think David Hayman who plays DCI Mike Walker on Trial and Retribution is a consummate professional, a very generous actor and a delightful man. His ability to move from tender emotion to strong no hold barred cop is a joy for me to watch, he eats up my lines. Coming up on his heels is the delightful Victoria Smurfit a joy to write for and an admirable actress. An obvious question, but had to ask, are we likely to see DCI Jane Tennison again on our screens?

Lynda: I would love to write more for DCI Jane Tennison but, I am also am a stickler for police procedure and the reality is DCI Tennison would either be a 'Commander' or have retired. However, I would love to work with the brilliant Helen Mirren again, the success of Prime Suspect changed both our lives and so to create a role for her would be a pleasure and a hope for the future. What differentiates Trial & Retribution from your other creations, and what do you think has kept audiences coming back for 6 series?

Lynda: Trial and Retribution has retained a freshness and an audience that continue to watch because it is of a very high standard. Carrying the show are brilliant actors and due to the success of the show I am able to draw in top directors. I also make a point of casting fresh faces so that it retains a realism. I really enjoy writing for the series and was truthfully astonished when I realized last year that it had been running for ten years! I am just so grateful to the public for continuing to turn on and tune in, long may it continue! Is there a television genre you'd like to tackle, but haven't?

Lynda: Yes, comedy and costume drama – both of which I am very excited to say that I am working on now! What's next for you?

Lynda: As well as the two I have just mentioned, I am currently working on another series of Trial & Retribution.

To discover more about Lynda La Plante click here.

Trial and Retribution series five is out in shops now and to celebrate is giving five UK users the chance to win their very own copy. Click here to enter.

Comments (3)
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awesome stuff :D:D:D
What a great interview! Thanks.
Lynda is a legend! Prime Suspect was, and always will be a brilliant show. She's right about her 'who done it' theory too, that's what always gets me hooked!

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