I'm Manchester's 'Queen of Crime' who learned to read and write at 39 and has now sold 100k books

Karen Woods is on her 30th novel and has a potential TV deal in the works.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

A best-selling author who learned to read and write aged 39 while working as a cleaner has written 30 books and sold more than 100,000 copies.

Karen Woods, now 54, would regularly skip school and left aged 15 when she became pregnant. It wasn't until she was offered a promotion which required her to write emails she decided to take an adult literacy course.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Brave Karen passed - and is now a best-selling crime author signed to HarperNorth, a branch of Harper Collins, and has even written sold-out theatre shows. The author, dubbed the “Manchester’s Queen of Crime”, credits reading and writing with changing her life and says a TV deal may be in the works. Karen now also uses her experience to help kids struggling in school to use creative writing as an outlet.

Karen Woods at home in Manchester. Picture: William Lailey / SWNSKaren Woods at home in Manchester. Picture: William Lailey / SWNS
Karen Woods at home in Manchester. Picture: William Lailey / SWNS

She said: “I’m on my 30th novel now and have written over a million words. I think it’s inspiring to think that it’s giving inspiration to women to do the things they want to do.

“I speak to girls about domestic violence, a common theme in my books, and how it comes across - there are stories they tell me about how their boyfriends check their phones. It’s much more out there than we think and I don’t think the girls recognise it. I also work on behaviour in schools.

"If kids get thrown out of class I go and speak to them – I say ‘let’s write a story’, and they’ll sit down and write lots of things that are on their mind. Rather than writing about Shakespeare I think if they’re writing about where they live and their lives it’s probably a good insight into what’s going on for them. I’m talking to TV production companies about converting my books to TV scripts and am now waiting to see if it gets commissioned.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Karen says she never learned to read or write at school and left aged 15 when she was pregnant, but tragically gave birth to a stillborn baby at seven months. She says she had trouble concentrating and would regularly skip school with other students.

Karen Woods has penned 30 books in all. Picture: William Lailey / SWNSKaren Woods has penned 30 books in all. Picture: William Lailey / SWNS
Karen Woods has penned 30 books in all. Picture: William Lailey / SWNS

To make ends meet, she worked as a cleaner, but it wasn’t until she was offered a promotion at 39 which required writing emails as part of the job that she decided to work on her literacy. She attended a course and after two attempts, passed the test and graduated the program. She realised her dream was to write a novel – and decided to go for it. Her 30th book The Street, a crime novel, is being released this summer.

"My books are available in Asda and Tesco,” said Karen. “I get lots of messages from readers saying they identify as one of my characters, that my books helped them to cope and that they want to write a book but never had courage.

“It’s heartwarming, there was a guy who’d been in prison who said my books helped him with his time in prison and now he’s come out he still reads my books. Anyone can write a book – everyone has that story in them and so many people want to tell their story and just don’t know how. You just need to pick up a pen and go on your own journey.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.