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Colette McBeth on her move from facts to fiction

Former Journal reporter and BBC news correspondent Colette McBeth is now a successful novelist

Colette McBeth, the former Journal staffer and TV news reporter who has changed career to become a novelist
Colette McBeth, the former Journal staffer and TV news reporter who has changed career to become a novelist

The face you see here may be familiar. For 10 years Colette McBeth was a BBC correspondent, speaking to the camera from crime scenes, courtrooms and other places where news was happening.

She was good at the job but had another life, other aspirations.

It’s all in the open now, her fondness for communicating fiction as well as fact. Debut novel Precious Thing, telling of a friendship that turns toxic, is just out in paperback signalling a promising new talent.

At this point I should say that Colette is from Whitley Bay. Her first job was as a trainee reporter on The Journal. She was good at that, too.

“I left in 2000,” she says. Goodness, how time flies!

“My boyfriend at the time wanted to go travelling and I decided to go as well. Then we moved to London after that and I got a job at Sky News, on the newsdesk.”

Colette insists it wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds. “I got fed up with ringing reporters and telling them to go out on stories. That was what I wanted to be doing.

“I left Sky in order to get some broadcasting experience. I went to the BBC London radio station and then started doing some TV. BBC South East asked me to go for three months and I stayed for three years.”

It was the start of a fruitful career at the BBC which saw Colette reporting on all the main TV news bulletins.

The coolness of TV correspondents in the heat of the moment has always impressed me. How do they manage not to get tongue-tied... or, worse, giggle or cry?

“No-one is brilliant at it first time round and some people are better than others,” says Colette. “But some people just take to it.

“I can remember a few horrific times, very early on, when I completely lost my train of thought and wanted the ground to swallow me up.

“The first time I was on air, on the radio, it was a local election and I couldn’t hear myself think because my body was shaking so much.”

For Colette, happily, this was a passing phase. “I really got a buzz from the live performance,” she says. “Professionally it was challenging but I loved nothing better than being put on the spot.”

Once she had to speak on air for 45 minutes because of a system failure in the newsroom.

It was during coverage of the case of the five young Ipswich women murdered by forklift driver Steven Wright in 2006.

“It was a big story for me,” recalls Colette. “They asked me questions and fortunately I knew the story really well because I’d covered it since the first body was found. I didn’t know about the breakdown and I remember at one point wondering: why are they finding me so interesting?”

The job started to get harder when Colette became a mum (she now has three young children, two boys and a girl). “I took my first network job when my eldest was one. We had to move for it and I saw him at weekends.

“It got harder because of the shifts. Sometimes you could be in work at 6am, finishing at 2pm, and then two days later you would be in at 6pm and finishing at 2am.

“It wasn’t just that, though. I’d started to feel like it wasn’t what I wanted to do any more. I felt I’d done it and now I wanted to try something else.”

At which point, you might be thinking, she went and dashed out a novel.

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the former Journal staffer and TV news reporter
Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the former Journal staffer and TV news reporter
 

But it wasn’t quite like that. “I had the idea for Precious Thing before I started at The Journal and I always wanted to write a book. But I thought I needed a career and journalism seemed the perfect fit.

“I got taken down that path and I loved it. I loved news stories. But it got to about 2010 and I thought, I don’t want to become one of those people who say they want to write a novel but don’t do anything about it.”

Colette enrolled on a writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing Precious Thing in January 2011 when still at the BBC.

She remembers passing up the chance to become a full-time political correspondent, remaining on general news because it seemed to offer more time to write. “If there was a quiet moment I’d take my laptop into a corner and write my novel,” she recalls.

“Everyone says, ‘How did you write your novel and have a full-time job and have two kids?’ The answer is that I became very efficient with my time.”

The novel was sold to Headline who snapped it up and offered a two-book deal. There was TV interest even before it was published.

“I sometimes have to pinch myself because it’s doing so well. It has just come out in the States and is also out in Germany. I think, since the end of November, it has sold about 60,000 copies which is amazing.”

The novel’s protagonist and narrator is Rachel, a TV news correspondent. It begins when she has to go to a police news conference to learn of a missing young woman, Clara O’Connor, who happens to be her best friend.

We share Rachel’s thoughts throughout the story as she mentally addresses Clara. As details emerge of their relationship, the tone darkens in the best traditions of the psychological thriller.

In the North East Colette’s parents, Danny and Liz, are proud as punch of their novelist daughter, as is public relations executive Helene Green, an old schoolfriend.

It has been suggested that Helene is Clara to Colette’s Rachel although none of them has vanished and they remain on good terms. Colette says: “There’s a scene in the book which was pretty much taken from real life and Helene has been called the friend who inspired the novel. But I think that’s a bit unfair.

“The thing is, I had really good close female friends when I was growing up and there are times when you love them and times when they drive you insane.”

Colette took redundancy from the BBC so is focusing on fiction. The second book, The Life I Left Behind, is finished, although it was “much, much harder” to write. Precious Thing is published by Headline at £6.99.

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