Although A Narrow Escape is Oxfordshire author Faith Martin's first police thriller, she has been writing novels for many years now. Her real name is Jacquie Walton, and she spent the first six years of her working life as a secretary at Somerville College, immediately after secretarial college, supporting her parents who had been badly injured in a car accident while she was studying for her diploma.

Six years later, her parents' compensation money came through and this, coupled with her savings, enabled her to take a year off from work to finish the novel that she wanted to write.

She said: "I was a bit put off because every time I read thrillers and romances, nearly every writer had gone to college. Even now, when I read the blurb about the author, they went to Oxford, they went to Cambridge, they all went to university.

"I'd never done that but also, being working class, for me to leave my job -- which was a good job -- and say I was going to take a year off to write, seemd a bit cheeky. It was like someone saying they were going to go to Hollywood and be the next Kate Winslett."

Still, she took a deep breath and went ahead. The first book she wrote was a 600-page romance, called Stolen Fire, set in Hawaii, for Orion Publishing.

"I'd never been to Hawaii, and I'd never stayed in a posh hotel. It spans the time from the sixties to the present time, so it took me almost as long to research it as it did to write it. So that adage about 'keep it small and write about something you know' went right over my head.

"It took five years to get that first book published, but I thought to give up after all those years of work and scrimping and saving, would make a nonsense of it, so luckily, in 1993, Orion took the book."

Following this, she wrote 13 other romances for Scarlet, an imprint of Robinson Publishing and for Heartline, which was a slightly more raunchy form of Mills and Boon, set up by disgruntled ex-Mills and Boon employees.

"Mills and Boons are very small and very confined in what you can do. I like books with a bit more action, a few thriller elements, a pretty big, meaty storyline as well as the romance.

"I'd always loved reading the classic thrillers, you know -- Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, the Golden Era, and the more modern thrillers like Harlan Coben -- so I thought I'd try crime. It was a bit of a gamble, as I was known as a romance writer.

"I wrote the things I like to read -- the country thrillers, whodunnits with clues and an amateur detective, but my agent couldn't place them."

Living in Heyford in north Oxfordshire, the 42-year-old author thought she would concentrate on setting a novel around Oxford, but try not to trespass on Morse territory.

She set about creating a believable woman character with a twist to make her more interesting -- in the case of Hillary Greene, the detective in A Narrow Escape, this is being the ex-wife of a lately deceased bent copper -- and build a thriller around her.

Much of the action in A Narrow Escape takes place on the canal, where 'the body' is found, and also where Detective Greene lives on a narrowboat, or in the Thames Valley Police headquarters in Kidlington.

To find out about police procedure, the author -- who had already gathered a great deal from the thrillers she had been reading for many years -- contacted the Press Liaison Officer at the Thames Valley Police and was sent a pile of information about the police and how they work.

"I had to make it a bit more hard-edged than I would normally choose to write. I don't like swearwords, but the men in the police force are hard -- they have to be hard.

"I wanted to make the main female character believably hard. She's come up through the ranks, attended police training, she's seen a lot and gone through a lot, but I didn't want to make her so divorced from normal life that she seemed like a cardboard cut-out character."

Detective Hillary Greene will be appearing in sequels to A Narrow Escape, as publishers Robert Hale are planning to bring out one a year for at least the next two books.

Since the novels take her a lot less than a year to research and write, she is hoping to publish many more thrillers under another name at the same time, probably for a different publisher.

Having found herself at home in the world of crime, she is now busy working out a whole catalogue of possible crimes to be committed and solved in a variety of situations.

A Narrow Escape by Faith Martin is published by Robert Hale at £16.99.