Poor Lee Bartholomew. She arrived fully formed in my head as a neurotic 38-year- old with serious anti-social tendencies and a curious reluctance to commit to her boyfriend of eight years.
I was shaking with fear at the time of her conception, huddled behind my front door in the middle of the Notting Hill Carnival, the largest street party in the world. For three whole days over the August bank holiday weekend, upwards of a million people - mostly Caribbeans - converge on this tiny area of west London. If you happen to live on the route of the various parades, audible conversation, TV and sleep are out of the question. The noise of the crowds packed shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalks outside your window and the music from the giant sound systems lining the streets is deafening. People ring your doorbell constantly begging to use your bathroom and if you refuse they proceed to water your garden.
And then there is the violence. While it has improved considerably in recent years, there is always the chance of a drug related stabbing or shooting or the re-surfacing of historical resentment towards the Metropolitan Police. At the time of Lee's arrival in my mind as the central character in my new crime series, I was renting a basement in the heart of Notting Hill. Its cool location, large rooms and access to a hundred-foot garden were the envy of my friends. Less so the secluded alleyway that led to the front door. Often, returning late after a night out I would surprise an illicit transaction in the darkness beside my front door. And the man who lived across the alley was given to ruthlessly discarding his lovers who would then return in the middle of the night to stand on his doorstep and describe in horrifying detail how they planned to dispose of him. Sometimes it was just a place to settle a drunken but brutal argument.
There were no windows in my entrance hall so I could never see what was happening, only hear. The night Lee was born, with the carnival in full swing, I was surprised to clearly make out a scream and a scuffle outside. Creeping along my hallway, I felt the thud of a body being hurled against my front door and heard Don't stab me, man. Please don't stab me.
I was a coward. I didn't open the door to give refuge to the fallen body. Instead I picked up the 'phone to call the police. But as I did so I heard them arrive, saw a man run through my garden and over the wall, the police giving chase. It was all over in a matter of minutes but the adrenaline rush that followed sent me skedaddling to my computer to create a quirky stay-at-home called Lee Bartholomew.
Many years ago a psychiatrist told me that a tiny percentage of people in the world are better off never getting married. They can only really survive if they are given an enormous amount of space. Like the polar bear, they live a solitary and territorial existence and only come together to mate. Factor in a paranoid notion that violence is lying in wait for you every time you open your front door and you have Lee to a T.
What character could be less suited to being plunged into a series of murder investigations? Yet Lee prevails if only because no matter how much my own life unravels, I only have to turn on the computer and the chaos in Lee's world will make mine seem like a breeze.