Sharon Bolton’s gritty novels may have seen her tipped as a future best-selling author and won her a legion of loyal fans, but her East Lancashire roots are never far away. So much so that her next thriller is set in Rossendale and based on her sister’s family who live there. We spoke to the Darwen-born writer.

AS a child, the eldest of three daughters, Sharon Bolton dreamed of becoming an actress and a dancer.

She studied drama at university and for a while lived that dream, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, before moving on to a successful public relations and marketing career.

It wasn’t until Sharon opted for a career break to start a family that she picked up her creative writing pen and discovered her story-writing abilities.

“I discovered writing relatively late in life. And looking back I want to hit my own head, because it was always there I just hadn’t found it. The discipline of stringing words together was natural to me and I have this imaginary world going on in my head all the time. But I never really put these things together and realised I had all the skills I needed to be a writer,” said Sharon, whose critically acclaimed debut novel, Sacrifice, released last year, won Amazon’s Best New Read 2008.

She said: “One day about 10 years ago I just gave it a go. I went to bed at night with my laptop on my knee and started writing what turned out to be a romantic fiction novel. It was like falling off a log — it just came pouring out like the easiest thing in the world for me and I loved it so much.”

She and husband Andrew now live in a village not far from Oxford, with their son and the latest addition to the family: Lupe, the lop-eared lurcher, who has a key role in Sharon’s career as an author. It is during her daily morning walks with thew dog that she thinks up new plots and characters.

Awakening, Sharon’s second book, is about a young veterinary surgeon with a dark secret and the aftermath of the day she saved a baby from a snake. The book is out now in hardback published by Bantam Press but, Sharon says, getting to that final stage is a long process.

“It takes at least a year to write a book and it's very much a full-time job,” she said. “I get up in a morning, my son will go to school, then I walk the dog for the thought process. Then I’ll write all day and into the evenings if I have a deadline looming, like right now. It’s quite pressured but, touch wood, I never get writer's block.”

Much of the former Darwen Moorland pupil’s inspiration comes from her life in East Lancashire, where many of her relatives remain.

“I love the desolate beauty of the moorland countryside around East Lancashire. There’s no-where quite like it,” she said. “It is the perfect setting for the sort of books I write. When I’m home I spend a lot of time wandering around the older parts of the town and letting my imagination wander. I love Darwen’s old mill buildings and terraced houses. A lot has been knocked down since I was there, which is a great shame.

“I love going up Darwen Tower and I also like walking along the River Darwen. It disappears under buildings and comes back again. It all brings back memories and generates ideas.”

She also admits to “borrowing” a few characters from her Lancashire upbringing.

“This part of the world is, of course, well known for its local characters,” she said.

Sharon’s third book, still a work in progress and yet to be given a title, is actually set in the county and based closely on her sister’s family, from Crawshawbooth.

The book focuses on the make-believe village of Heptonclough, which she has created in Rossendale. The main character, 10-year-old Tom Fletcher, and his family build a new house on the moors, where it soon becomes apparent something very strange is going on.

“The family is based closely on my sister’s. She hasn’t read the book yet, “ said Sharon, who plans to release the novel in 2010. “ When her daughter was very young I went to stay to help the family out when my sister was ill. They built a house next to a church in this town next to a graveyard and one morning I was up with the little girl at about 7am eating our breakfast, looking out over this graveyard as the mist was starting to clear. I thought 'this is a spooky sort of place, I wonder if I could set a book here',” she said.

“So the inspiration is my sister's family, who lived in Crawshawbooth, but them and the town have been altered quite a bit. I’ve taken a town that is strictly in Yorkshire but I’ve tweaked it and moved it to sit near where they live. I describe it as a town that time seems to left to mind its own business.”

And it’s not only her family that Sharon uses in her books, she revealed. If you went to school with her or once lived near her, you may well feature in one of her collection of thrillers.

Sharon said: “I use real people all the time for my books. I’m shamelessly lazy. Anyone I was in class with at Darwen Moorland with will find their names in my books. They won’t be anything like their characters but I’ll pinch their names and appearances. And I like to use real pets — my next door neighbour's dog is in my current book.”

Her ideas for future creations include a series based on the Jack The Ripper serial killings, and a tale based around the gang who she grew up with in Darwen — but, of course, with her trademark sinister twist.

Although Sharon loves her new career, she admits that writing can be quite lonely sometimes — and nothing beats the feeling of hearing from her readers.

“My readers write to me a lot and they are very complimentary," she said. "I’m still waiting for a bad one. It’s so lovely because my day is spent at computer and I don’t see people or get many phone calls, so to hear from readers all over the world saying they really enjoyed a book of mine is just fantastic. It’s the icing on the cake.”

l Awakening and Sacrifice are available now from leading bookshops