‘Coming through this experience, I’ve been able to make big changes to my life. I don’t view myself as a victim, I think I’m a survivor.’

The call for change in the Metropolitan Police is increasing as its practices and culture come under scrutiny. Donna Mclean’s memoir Small Town Girl can only strengthen the case for reform. BooksfromScotland talked to her about her extraordinary book.


Small Town Girl
By Donna Mclean
Published by Hodder


Congratulations on the publication on your memoir Small Town Girl. It’s an extraordinary story. For those who are unaware, could you tell us a little bit of the story behind the writing of the book.

Thank you! In 2015 I discovered that my ex fiancee, who disappeared from my life in 2004, was actually an undercover police officer. Carlo worked for a secretive political policing unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, within the Metropolitan Police. Over 40 years the SDS and its successor, the NPOIU, spied on left wing and grassroots groups. Women activists were deceived into long term intimate relationships in order to gain greater access to the groups. I was one of those women.


It clearly took a lot of courage to take your story to the public. What prompted the decision to write?

I started writing in early 2017, having been encouraged by a close friend to write an article for a trade union journal. I was anxious that it wouldn’t be accepted or would be sent back with heavy edits! This wasn’t the case and it spurred me on to sign up to a six week creative writing course, Write Like A Grrrl. I started writing snippets of my story, showed the tutor and she said you have to write a book about this! Little did I know!


Before this happened did you consider that you would ever write? How was the experience in putting your story to paper?

I hadn’t written since I was at school. As a child I loved writing, and wrote pretty much every day. Someone gave me an old fashioned typewriter and I would bash out stories at night. I had brilliant English teachers at Prestwick Academy and they were extremely encouraging. Unfortunately it all fell away when I left school. Getting my story down on paper was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve done, plus I have absolutely found my writing voice again. I’ve written for several national newspapers, I’ve published two short stories and I will soon be writing a regular newspaper column.


Other than writing what else has helped you come to terms with what has happened to you?

The support of other people affected by abusive policing methods, the opportunity to speak about it in public, walking by the sea, re-examining my life and priorities. It has been a tumultuous few years but I am very much back on track, on a better track than before. Coming through this experience, I’ve been able to make big changes to my life. I don’t view myself as a victim, I think I’m a survivor.


What would you like to see happen for the public to be able to trust the authorities again? Do you think that even possible?

We saw the forced resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick yesterday. That’s a tiny step. What we need is utter transparency, a willingness from the top to admit, accept and deal with the corruption, racism, sexism and homophobia within the Met and other forces. It’s not a few bad apples. It’s the whole orchard. Policing needs a radical overhaul, not just a new face at the top and some superficial changes.


Do you see yourself writing another book? Do you have other stories you wish to share?

Yes, absolutely! I have a story in my head that has been there for 35 years. I first came across this tragedy at Ayr Library when I went to do some research with my English teacher. It has never left me and it now is shouting to be told. I also have a folder of extra words (30k) that were edited out of the book. This is going to keep me occupied for a while!


Small Town Girl by Donna Mclean is published by Hodder, priced £16.99.

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