ANNA Smith arouses the curiosity almost as much as the committed, courageous, but personally conflicted central character in her series of best-selling crime novels, Rosie Gilmour.

Gilmour is an old school, foot-jammed-in-the-door journalist, a throwback to the days when hacks had far more time to spend in Glasgow bars than their livers could cope with. Gilmour, we learn from the five novels she features in, loves to hitch up her skirt and wade into the sewer of human madness in a bid to reveal Irish terrorists, Glasgow drug barons or Eastern European hitmen. She runs on adrenalin and vodka. And in her personal life she hits and runs.

But what of Smith? How close is she to this fictional creature who seems so career clever and caring - but somehow disconnected from life? Gilmour seems to yearn for a relationship but crime and career seem to get in the way. Is this Smith's personal story? More importantly, will she tell me? Journalists, when the tables are turned, are usually more guarded than a drug dealer's back door.

On meeting in the basement café of a Glasgow bookshop, the initial signs aren't good. Smith is wearing Victoria Beckham sunglasses, and for the first five minutes illustrates all the symptoms of a St Vitus Dance sufferer, tugging at her red hair, playing with the thick scarf around her neck, eyeing the tape recorder at regular intervals. But as the coffee and lemon muffin go down, the lady begins to open up.

"Life was pretty ordinary and safe until the day my uncle Pat died of a heart attack at forty-three," she recalls, in rapid, clipped sentences, (perhaps emblematic of the career life she's lived?) of growing in the North Lanarkshire village of Chapelhall as one of five kids, her dad a miner and her mother a hairdresser.

"We all lived close together and the impact of that day changed my life beyond belief. I couldn't cope. I had to change school, having just gone to secondary. And I'd come home at night expecting someone else to have died. But the really sad thing is, the families never spoke of his death for another thirty five years."

Was Smith affected enough to push her away from closeness, to avoid being so hurt ever again? "I wanted my family around me, but I guess . . . maybe," she considers.

The teenage Anna Smith however was a burn-swimming, tree-climbing, football-playing tomboy, who decided she wanted to be a girl and a journalist round about the age of fourteen. (She studied shorthand at nightschool.) But she was also sensitive, always absorbing the world around her. And she wanted to discover life outside Lanarkshire. Aged eighteen, young Anna set off to travel the world for a year or so ("To live the hippy life in Morocco or wherever") but fate kicked in when she visited a relative in the sleepy, middle class East Sussex town of Eastbourne. Smith spotted an ad for a junior reporter in the local paper, applied, and the editor took the chance on this 18 year-old Boadicea with an Airdrie accent.

But her sacking six months down the line reveals a great deal about another side of her character. "I was doing well as a promising, tough, reporter," she recalls "but one of the main stories of the time was of the local Tory councillors trying to rid the beach of half a dozen vagrants. I thought this ridiculous, and so wrote a letter to my own paper under the name 'Hazel Cluster', defending the vagrants right to live a life."

No one at the paper realised the name was a chocolate in the Black Magic box and it ran as the Star Letter. Indeed, the editor was so impressed by the clever argument of the correspondence he sent a reporter out to interview the strident Hazel Cluster.

"I hadn't put the number of the flat I was renting, so they couldn't find her. But I couldn't resist telling some colleagues I had written it and somebody shopped me. And I was let go. Sacked. And my life fell apart because I'd felt the next move was Fleet Street." Smith adds; "I'd also been seen at a Young Socialist rally, so I was probably viewed as a Scottish nuisance."

The nuisance wasn't for giving up. She had loved her introductory ride on the roller coaster of reporting and wanted to get back on, fast. She returned to Scotland and raced through the local papers to the Daily Record. However, it was too much too soon.

"I didn't even know what a tenement close was. I was twenty-two and way too young to enter the bear pit, with journalists at that time swinging from chandeliers. But I learned to drink with reporters at half eight in the morning. I learned how to make great contacts; the police, lawyers. I watched reporters get their faces punched and I learned how to get into homes to get interviews. And I loved the world."

Like Rosie Gilmour, Smith smashed the glass ceiling to pieces and embraced the danger of crime reporting. She was once held hostage Lanarkshire in a flat by a deviant, crazed armed robber, who owned an even more crazed Alsatian. She went to Belfast on UFF stories, she faced terror in Kosovo, Rwanda and Romania and was once ambushed in Somalia. And at one point, Smith was commanded to have a panic button installed in her Lanarkshire home after police revealed hoods had taken a contract out on her life.

"After one gangster was murdered I wrote a scathing colour piece at the funeral - basically saying while all the limos etc and trappings were there for him, in the same cemetery lay the young kids who had died from the heroin he was pushing. It didn't go down well."

What's eminently clear is that Anna Smith isn't one of the many cosy crime writers whose only connection to closest to the world of criminality is attending Neighbourhood Watch coffee mornings or watching re-runs of Murder, She Wrote on Dave TV. But as the years crept up on the journalist, the sense of invulnerability dissolved. And when she began to write (award-winning) colour pieces on the likes of the Ravenscraig closure Smith realised she was more wrapped up in the human consequences of a story than the story of the drug dealer going to jail.

In 2003 she took redundancy and decided to become a novelist, recreating crime drama from some of her own experiences, and from the imagination which feeds off observation. The idea for her new novel A Cold Killing, which begins in a London café with a bullet to the back of a Scots academic's skull, came about while sitting in a café in King's Cross.

Do the Rosie Gilmour novels offer the excitement she once had in her career? "Yes," she says, laughing. "I live in a world where people don't exist except in my own mind. It's a mental illness. But I'd add my family - and the bills coming in - help keep me in the real world."

Smith is now on a demanding, ("but fantastic") two-a-year book deal, with a remit to illuminate even more readers' ordinary lives, with deliciously dark tales of human misery, murder and mayhem. But the initial curiosity about the writer now demands an answer to the obvious question; how close is she to Rosie Gilmour? It's clear from her Eastbourne adventure Smith has a real sense of bedevilment and fun. Like her character, she's also in denial about the ageing process. "I like to pass myself off as younger," she says. "People judge you by the number."

Smith also reveals a gypsy-like transience, while suggesting a solitariness, living alone in her home in the south west of Ireland or in the south of Spain apartment she rents during the colder months of the year. Like Rosie, the novelist needs friends family around, the nieces and babies she adores, yet needs to be apart somewhat, to be able look in.

Does her love life echo that of Gilmour? "I just forgot to have a personal life," she says of the career/marriage debate. "My life just passed me by so fast, sustained by being in Africa or America or wherever." She adds, with a sigh; "As a kid, I wasn't girlie-girlie, but still hoped my Prince Charming would come along one day. I'm still hoping."

So is she Rosie Gilmour? She smiles and pauses for a moment before answering. "Yes," she says. "I guess I am. Rosie will take more chances than I have, but yes, I'll put my hand up and admit it. She's me."

�¢ A Cold Killing, by Anna Smith, Quercus Books, £7.99.