International backdrop as Sheffield writer branches out

Sheffield author Danuta Reah at her home in Broomhill.
Sheffield author Danuta Reah at her home in Broomhill.
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A forensic expert jumps to her death from a fifth floor window in the Polish city of Lodz.

Her father leaves his remote Scottish home in pursuit of answers.

The action moves from this to a desperate woman fleeing the marauding rebels of the Ivory Coast, and the interrogation rooms of the Egyptian police force.

This dramatic plot is a world away from the desk at which Danuta Reah taps out her spine-chilling novels – in her home tucked away amongst the trees in a quiet corner of Endcliffe.

While the birds tweet and the dappled sunlight spills in through her windows, Danuta is immersed in a world of murderers, creepy graveyards and page-turning suspense.

The critically acclaimed crime writer recently published her latest read, entitled The Last Room. Unlike a number of her previous novels, which are set in her home city, the action in this book flits between a number of international locations, including the city of Lodz in Poland.

Danuta, aged 64, said her main inspiration for departing from her usual style was her Polish father.

“My father was a Polish refugee – he came over here at the start of the war and he used to keep his past in Poland alive by telling stories about his childhood,” she explained. “After the war, my father wasn’t able to go back to live in Poland and he never really saw his family again. He had a good career – he was the city architect in Sheffield for a while – but there was always that feeling that he had got out and his family hadn’t.”

Danuta, who lives on Endcliffe Vale Road with her artist husband Ken, always knew she wanted to be a writer but at first needed a ‘day job’ as well to pay the bills.

She therefore ended up with ‘probably the best apprenticeship a writer could have’ – trying her hand at a variety of jobs from barmaid to laboratory assistant, and even having a stint living in Kingston, Jamaica.

“I left school as soon as I finished my O-levels because I couldn’t face the idea of staying any longer,” she said.

“I can’t remember wanting to be anything else other than a writer when I started thinking about careers but I have been an unqualified lab technician, I’ve done bar work, I have done chamber maid work and office work.

“I have to say, office work is the most boring thing I have ever done. But all that time I was writing as well. From being small, I have loved stories and loved telling stories.

“I have sisters and a younger brother so we would always be telling each other stories.”

Danuta finally leapt headfirst into writing her first novel, Only Darkness, in 1999. She had been made redundant from her only ‘serious’ job – as an English Language teacher at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology.

The book is set in Rotherham, Crookes and along the East Cost railway line.

“I’d had the idea for the book a few months previously but I hadn’t got round to doing anything with it,” she said.

“When I did finally write it down, it came alive and I wanted to know what was going to happen next.

“As I had been made redundant and was doing bits and pieces of jobs here and there I just had to write at any moment of time that I could find – sometimes very late at night and other times early in the morning.

“I always wanted to get back to the computer and get on with it but it took just over a year to finish it.”

And where did the fascination with crime come from?

“You could say it runs in the family,” Danuta said.

“I have a 17th century ancestor who was hanged, drawn and quartered for being on the wrong side of religion.

“I have always been interested in the darker side. It fascinates me. Not so much the gory stuff, although I don’t shy away from that, but more trying to find an answer to the question, ‘Why do people do these things?’

“‘What makes someone commit murder?’

“I got thrown out of the needlework class when I was nine because the teacher couldn’t cope with the ghoulish tales I used to entertain the class with. It’s a skill that’s stayed with me throughout my life!”

n Danuta launches her new book The Last Room, published today, at 7pm tonight in Broomhill Library, Taptonville Crescent, where she will do some readings and answer questions. Tickets available at the door.