21:00 21 April 2022
After a career responding to international agricultural emergencies, from radiation fallout to avian flu, Heather Peck is now reaping a harvest of country mystery novels.
Heather, from Ormesby St Margaret, near Hemsby, has spent decades writing laws, rules and regulations and ministerial speeches, but only started publishing fiction last year.
His career in agriculture – both in the field, raising calves, sheep and alpacas, and in the heart of government – is key to his fiction. Its backdrops are neither the gritty urban settings of many detective novels nor the cozy rural villages beloved of murder mysteries, but feature domestic violence, modern slavery and animal cruelty.
For much of her career, Heather was a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, which became the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In 1986, she headed Britain’s food emergencies unit and helped deal with the impact of the Chernobyl disaster, including monitoring sheep contaminated with radioactive cesium.
Following the foot-and-mouth disease disaster of 2001, a new emergency role was created. “In the event of an outbreak of a reportable disease, someone would get a phone call (usually Sunday night of a holiday weekend and usually me) and be told to drop everything and go manage emergency,” Heather said. She was the regional emergency response expert for every bird flu outbreak in England between 2005 and 2008.
But it wasn’t all misfortune and disaster. Heather’s food safety career included a paid stint eating chocolate at Rowntree Nestle.
She has also been an agricultural policy adviser, representing the UK in international negotiations and helping to draft legislation on pesticide control, GM crops, food safety, gang licensing and welfare. animal. “I think my most significant contribution to the Marine Fish Industries Act was informing the legal team that they had pulled the definition of fish so broadly that it would include wood lice!” she says.
She was not born into a farming family but bought land to set up a small farm with her first husband and raised calves and sheep there, then alpacas too. “I blame several family vacations on farms for my lifelong fascination with agriculture,” she said. “My initial ambition was to be a veterinarian and work with livestock.”
Her writing career began after moving to Norfolk and became involved in village life in Ormesby St Margaret, including writing a column based on her dogs’ adventures for the parish bulletin. Praise from friends and neighbors prompted her to take a detective writing course at the National Center for Writing in Norwich.
“The feedback on the course, both from the tutor and from other course members, has been positive. So I thought, ‘If not now, when?’ said Heather, 67.
His first novel, Secret Places, introduced police detective Greg Geldard and a crime that took him from Yorkshire to the Norfolk Broads. The second, Glass Arrows, depicted organized crime, modern slavery, murder and menace amidst rural beauty and was shortlisted for the 2021 East Anglian Book Awards fiction prize.
Her latest novel is Fires of Hate. Now, Greg is a Detective Chief Inspector in Norfolk investigating a terrorist plot linking a government lab and animal welfare.
“Each of the books can be read on their own, but also fit into the story of one man’s fight to do his best,” said Heather, who is working on her fourth novel – inspired by a conversation with a colleague. member of the Bure to Yare Benefit choir.
“I set my books in the rural world because I want to share its wonders, its peculiarities and its hilarious moments with people who may not have had the privilege of seeing it as I saw it”, has said Heather. “But I wrote these three specific stories because each reveals issues that are probably hidden from most of us and that I care about passionately.”
When her research took her to the public gallery at Norwich Crown Court, she became a volunteer in the Witness Service at Great Yarmouth Magistrates Court, dealing with witnesses called to give evidence in court cases.
She is also a volunteer and trustee of Norfolk Citizens Advice. “I do it because it’s both fulfilling and challenging,” she says. “People come in with so many different issues – family, job, housing, money, health, etc. Sometimes they’re upset, sometimes angry, but it’s always good to help them find a way forward.”
She was a non-executive trustee, then chair of a Cambridge NHS Trust and a trustee of the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust. “Like most people in this country, my family has benefited from the NHS and I wanted to give something back,” Heather said.
During the pandemic, she also became a vaccinator. “When volunteers were called in, it occurred to me that switching from sheep and alpacas to humans probably wouldn’t be too difficult,” Heather said. “And it turned out, although you have more conversation with humans!”
Fires of Hate, by Heather Peck, is published Silverwood Books and is available in local and national bookstores.