Serial killers don’t come much bigger or scarier than Jack the Ripper. And although it is more than a century since ‘Jack’ was butchering women in London’s East End, the mystery surrounding him is as compelling as ever.

This provides the background for SJ Bolton’s new novel Now You See Me, which interweaves the history into a modern psychological drama with more twists and turns than a roller-coaster.

“I’ve always loved dark, spooky mysteries. The darker, the better,” she said.

Although the S of SJ stands for Sharon, the “J” is a red herring.

“It stands for absolutely nothing. My publishers advised I should publish under initials because men are reluctant to buy a book by a new author if it’s got a woman’s name on the cover. It’s the same trick PD James pulled, but because I didn’t have a middle name, I had to invent a letter.”

Ironically, she dreams up these bone-chilling thrillers at her home in the rural idyll of Little Crendon, near Thame, which she shares with husband Andrew and their nine-year-old son.

Her fascination with the Ripper stretches back a long way. “I have always been interested in very dark crime, much to my mother’s dismay. Jack The Ripper was an exceptionally brutal killer, almost ground-breaking in the serial-killer sense, and nobody to this day knows who he was.

“What interests me most is that a very clever and determined man managed to evade all attempts to catch him.

“People like to say if he was operating now, we have the forensic ability to catch him. I’m not so sure.”

Does her fondness for writing about serial killers and disembowelment frighten off the other mums at the school gates?

“Most people knew me before my books came out, but of course I get comments like 'How do you come up with all this stuff?’ “They ask Andrew how he can bear to sleep with me at night and want to know if he keeps a wooden cross under the bed.”

The turning point came about six years ago when, aged 30-something and working in public relations in the City of London, she took a journalist to lunch. “He told me he’d taken a week off to write a novel for Mills & Boon because he’d heard they’re only 50,000 words long and he could earn £15,000.”

As she was struggling to pay off a loan she had taken to complete an MBA, it struck a chord. “I thought ‘Blimey, that’s a lot of money, I could use that’. By the time I got home that night, I had the plot for a Mills & Boon novel. I went upstairs, got my laptop out and started. It was like falling off a log — it just came pouring out. I never actually got anything published by Mills & Boon but it didn’t matter because that was the start of the process.”

She finished her first published novel, the psychological thriller Sacrifice, in 2006 and it hit the bookshelves two years later.

Her earliest ambition was to be an actor. Growing up in Lancashire, she learned ballet and tap and went on to study drama at university. “People tell me I am a very visual writer and my books would make good film or TV. I think that because of my early stage training, I see pictures in my head as I’m writing.”

Although her second novel, Awakening, is set in a Dorset village, the inspiration came from Long Crendon.

“It is the perfect place to live in so many ways. It’s very pretty and a nice community but we have a snake population.

“It struck me as interesting that you’ve got this perfect village on the surface with this undercurrent of something sinister wriggling in the undergrowth.”

Last year,her third book, Blood Harvest, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award and recently she was shortlisted for the CWA’s Dagger In the Library gong.

“It’s still pinch-myself time because a few years ago I thought I would be incredibly lucky just to get a publisher. If it made enough money to justify staying home and writing, I would be happy. I never dreamt I would get foreign publishers and be nominated for awards. To see my name on a list alongside authors like Lee Child and Mark Bellingham is incredible.”

* Now You See Me is published by Bantam Press at £12.99.