With 20 books under her belt and more to come, Martina Cole has taken control of her rheumatoid arthritis, reports Iona Walton

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Martina Cole’s page-turning crime novels have made her one of the most successful British female novelists of all time. Gritty plotlines tackle London’s underworld and have achieved sales of over ten million books; Martina’s twentieth book – Revenge – looks set to storm bestseller lists around the world this Autumn. 

Less well-known is that Martina has a daily battle with rheumatoid arthritis, triggered when she broke her arms after falling off a swing as a child, and diagnosed when she was 21 years old. At the time her son, Christopher, was a baby and Martina had three jobs… and was a long way from the comfort of the fame she has since acquired.

“I was devastated at first,” Martina remembers. “The pain was terrible and throughout the years I tried everything from vitamins and supplements to a range of mainstream and alternative medicines.

“Over time, I have learned how to manage my arthritis and now self-medicate, only taking drugs when I have to. I have tried them all but for some reason the painkiller that best works for me is Sainsbury’s Own Ibuprofen 400.”

Martina’s arthritis has progressed since her early twenties; her right elbow has fused and the arthritis moved into her left ankle and spine, affecting her neck and shoulders.

“My right elbow is so badly bent that I have to wear long sleeves to hide it. One consultant suggested I had a hinge put in but I’m a believer in not having a general anaesthetic unless it is absolutely essential.

“I can go for weeks when I don’t need much medication but at other times the pain is excruciating. Typing aggravates it, so I had a bad attack when I finished the third rewrite of Revenge,  which involved a month of intense work.”

Like many others, Martina finds that the weather has a big part to play in how she feels physically.

“I was on holiday in Egypt when I heard that a former Aga Khan found relief from bouts of arthritis by being buried up to his neck in hot sand,” she laughs. “It made me realise that I too experience less pain in warm weather – when I’m at my house in Northern Cyprus where the summer temperatures reach 40decC I often have a much easier time. Strangely, dry snowy days seem to have a positive effect too.”

Since the devastation of her diagnosis over 30 years ago, Martina has learned how to live with her rheumatoid arthritis and refuses to let it hold her back.

“Most people have absolutely no idea that I have arthritis,” she says. “The way I look at it is that I would rather have this than something more life threatening. Sleep is difficult as I wake up every 30 minutes throughout the night with pain in my neck and shoulders, but I don’t let it get me down. I’m a big meat eater but I’ve come to realise that beef makes my pain much worse, so if I’m planning to eat it – or tomatoes – I’ll take pain killers first.

“I make myself be active and refuse to let my arthritis stop me gardening or enjoying outdoor life.

“My advice for Arthritis Digest readers?  If you want to do something, go and do it. Don’t let arthritis beat you. I know that living in constant pain is terrible and can drag you down – I once had to stand my hand in a bucket of ice after a book singing – but keep as active as possible. I want to do the Inca Trail next year and nothing is going to stop me.”

Revenge, published by Headline, is available on 24th October and is £19.99 (hardback)

Visit www.martinacole.co.uk for more information.