A best-selling author from Manchester who only learnt to read and write at 39 while working as a cleaner has now written 27 novels. Karen Woods, 53, wrote her first book at 39 after taking an Adult Literacy course – and has now written best-selling books and sold-out theatre shows.
Hailed as Manchester’s Queen of Crime, the author credits reading and writing with changing her life and says she wants to represent people with bad starts in life.
Now, Karen, who grew up in Miles Platting, has signed book deals with publisher HarperNorth, and has appeared on TV shows including Loose Women and The One Show.
Karen said: “I was bought up on a council estate and my mum and dad split up when I was 13. All of those excuses don’t matter, if you get a bit of confidence and self-belief anything is possible. I feel I represent all those people who had bad starts in life. I want to be the inspiration for women who think that because they’ve got kids, they can’t do what they want. Nothing is set in stone if you believe in yourself. I’m on my 27th novel now and my dream hasn’t stopped there.
“I write real books and real problems and I’ve been called Manchester’s Queen of Crime. I’ve always wanted to wear a crown.”
Karen left school at 15 when she was pregnant and tragically gave birth to a stillborn baby at seven months. When she left education, she hadn’t learnt to read or write as she had trouble concentrating and would regularly skip school with other students.
She worked as a cleaner and at 39 was offered a promotion – but was told she would need to write emails as part of the job. She attended an Adult Literacy Course and after two attempts, passed the test required to graduate.
“When I used to work as a cleaner and got the promotion, I lost loads of sleep thinking they would find out I couldn’t read or write,” said Karen.
“I thought I could blag my way around it, but they sent me on an Adult Literacy Course and as the lessons went on I started to take an interest. Once I got the certificate in my hand I realised anything was possible – I could read and write and was the same as everyone else.”
While on a wellbeing course, she revealed that her dream was to write a novel – and just three months later, she finished hand-writing her first book Broken Youth.
Karen’s book was picked up by Manchester-based Empire Publications, and since then she’s written 20 books for the publishers.
Now, Karen has had book deals with publishers HarperNorth, who have published her last seven books, and has written sell-out shows at the Lowry Theatre and Middleton Arena.
Karen said: “I’d written Broken Youth by hand and had to type it up – it took me hours, but I did it. I went to a local paper who published it in segments and after that I got a call from Empire Publications – they loved it. When the book first came, I used to sit and hold it and think about how it was a story I wrote.
“Over the years I ended up writing 20 novels for Empire Publications – Broken Youth and Grow Wars were best-sellers on Amazon. I submitted to HarperNorth in 2020 and they offered me a two-book deal – it was the first time my books were in Asda and other supermarkets.
“Now, I’ve had three ‘two-book’ deals with them, I’m an ambassador for Adult Learning and a Patron of Read Easy. I’ve written and directed six sell-out shows at the Lowry Theatre and Middleton Arena.
“I do writing as a hobby - I still do cleaning and everything else that a mother does. I’ve only just signed book deal, so I probably get £4,000 every six months - it’s nothing major at the moment.
“I also work in a school on the behaviour team and love working with kids who are not in mainstream school, I see myself in all of them. I do inspirational talks in prisons - Northern Girls Love Gravy is always booked out in prison, and prisoners say my books remind them of home. I want to inspire women over forty to chase their dreams - it’s never too late.”