IN 1984, Janet Ellis broke her pelvis training to make a free fall jump from a Hercules aircraft at 12,000 feet. Back in training, in 1986, she jumped 2,000 feet.

But her biggest leap of faith was starting her path as a published author. “I was too scared to do it before,” says Janet. “People’s first reactions are to say, ‘Well hardly anyone gets published’. Any profession I’ve chosen that seems to be the reaction! You say you want to be an actress, they say, ‘Hardly anyone works you know,’ and it’s the same with writing.”

Ellis wrote her debut, The Butcher’s Hook, aged 60. The psychological thriller set in 1763 received critical acclaim, but it took years for Janet to commit. The longer she held off, the more nervous she got. “How audacious is it?” she says, of becoming a novelist. “Nothing’s new, everything’s been written before. I just want people to know what I think and how I see it, which is, you know, quite an arrogant thing to do. So I made lots of problems for myself to not do it - I can’t really give the time, I want to see my friends - if I’m honest the only thing that underscores all of that is enormous fear. Not a fear of failure, because that means you’ve set out to do something and it’s just bombed, it was more a fear of terrible indifference that people would read something and think, ‘Right, well done, great’ then just move on. I wanted to stay in people’s minds, and the more it went on, I thought this is never going to happen.”

The Butcher’s Hook was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, and crime author Clare Mackintosh declared her a ‘masterful storyteller’. It was submitted under a pseudonym under Janet’s agent’s advice. “Initially I was, ‘No don’t do that! I’ve actually written a book!’ But he was right really, without giving myself any airs and graces my career has an ‘oh yes’ quality to it...Janet Ellis from Blue Peter, people say ‘Oh yes’, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s mum, ‘Oh yes’ - all of which is lovely - but it also meant people might have been expecting a particular type of book. It just absolutely meant that it was only about the book.”

Her follow-up, the compelling, How It Was, is set in the 1970s and explores tensions at the heart of a mother-daughter relationship and the pressure women face to be the perfect wife and mother. Janet will be on a panel at the Ilkley Literature Festival alongside authors Emma Kennedy and Amita Murray discussing the theme ‘Mothers, Daughters, Sisters’. “I’m really looking forward to it because Ilkley is such a respected festival,” says Janet. “What unites all of us there is a love of books.” The panel, she says, will be fun, with Emma Kennedy, actress, novelist and TV writer who has appeared on TV comedies including Goodness Gracious Me and Miranda. “Emma is a very funny woman, her book is great but she herself is very funny. The hour probably won’t be long enough,” says Janet.

* Mothers, Daughters, Sisters with Emma Kennedy, Janet Ellis and Amita Murray is at All Saint’s Church, Ilkley, on Saturday, October 12, 1.30pm.

Visit or call (01943) 816714.

Ann Chadwick