Roberta Taylor has played some hardened characters over the years, none more so than in her current role as chain-smoking Inspector Gina Gold in police drama The Bill.
And it's her own tough East End upbringing and family of strong women which the actress credits for giving her the survival skills to get on in life.
Now she has written Too Many Mothers, a memoir of her childhood. There are no ghostwriters, no celebrity slant and no nonsense in the book, which ends before her acting career began.
"Celebrity books are not my kind of books at all. They are not about writing, they are about showing off," Roberta says.
"I don't want to talk about my life now. I'm fascinated by history, by what makes people what they are."
Born the illegitimate child of a bus conductor, Roberta was brought up by her mother, aunts and wily grandmother who would do anything to survive, including stealing from her seven children and dodging the tally man (money lender) when it came to payback time.
These women were the backbone of the family unit, while the men who trailed in and out of their lives are painted as either frequently errant or quick to give a drink-fuelled backhander to anyone who got in their way.
There was warmth but few tears, little sympathy and strictly no self-pity when times were hard, she recalls.
"What's amazing is that they didn't see themselves as strong at all, they just got on with it. I don't say you weren't allowed to have tears, but the attitude was, 'What are you moaning about?'.
"I'm a bit hard on people who set themselves up as victims because real victims never moan about it. People who've been in concentration camps don't come up and say 'Poor me', they just get on with their lives."
The 57-year-old says she has transferred some of these elements into the character of Gina Gold, the no-nonsense police officer she has played for nearly four years.
"I try to make her more like the extremes of me, so she's very untidy, which I am. She's very sarcastic, which I am. She's more direct than I am and she's aware of her own vulnerability, so she covers it up."
Roberta's view of men has not been tainted by the fact that her father, who was married when he got her mother pregnant - and didn't leave his wife - was never a part of her life.
She's never wanted to catch up with him and says she has no feelings towards him either way.
"I don't mean that in a cold way. It's just that you don't miss what you don't have. And my stepfather is very good to me."
The actress has been married twice herself - she wed actor Peter Guinness in the late 90s, after 20 years together, following the break up of her first marriage when she was a teenager, and the birth of her son.
"We only did it because we couldn't be bothered to make a will and it seemed more of a fun way to do it. He was about to go off to Berlin to do something with Rutger Hauer. And I'd wanted to go to Berlin since I was about ten.
"So we went to Chelsea Town Hall, did that, got on a plane, he worked and I played for three weeks," she recalls.
And sharing a profession helps keep their relationship going, she says.
"It means you're living with a man who isn't panicked about where you are when you're doing these hours and the extra bits of work."
She snatched precious hours at weekends and holidays to write the book, in between learning scripts for The Bill, which she joined nearly four years ago. Before that, of course, she became a household name on EastEnders as Irene Raymond.
And she's evidently happier being in a show that's not quite as claustrophobic as a top soap.
"Soaps don't go on location much. With The Bill, every day we are out in the streets. Soaps don't have outside actors coming in very often. We have them in every episode. It's a show full of theatre actors who have worked everywhere.
"It's strange, I never worked with Todd Carty (who played the evil PC Gabriel Kent in The Bill) on EastEnders. In three years I bought a bunch of bananas off him."
Her acting experience is far wider than many of the people she met in EastEnders - but she has been in the business a long time. After attending drama school in London, she joined the highly acclaimed Glasgow Citizens' Company and worked for years in theatre.
She says some people were amazed at the fact that real thespians, including Alan Rickman and Charles Dance, attended her book launch.
"There were people in the TV world - not the actors - who suddenly saw my life there, among people who had gone on to become film actors. But I worked in the theatre for a long time and they are still my mates. You could almost hear them saying, 'How does she know them?'. It's irritating."
Roberta made a conscious decision not to stay in EastEnders for longer than two years - but she ended up staying for three.
She was later offered parts in several other long-running shows before accepting The Bill.
"I thought that with the uniform, I could go back to being the actress."
Money is not her primary driving force, she insists, although she adds she doesn't want to be poor.
"When I left EastEnders, I was asked why and I said, 'I'm frightened of getting addicted to the money'. For me, to feel successful as an actor means you can pay your gas bill." She now has ideas for a novel for the second instalment of the twobook deal she made with her publishers.
Yet no matter how much success she enjoys, the fame that comes with it doesn't sit easily with Roberta.
"My life for 25 years had been fantastic in that I got on with my life and occasionally someone would come up and say, 'I saw you in Inspector Morse last night, you were wonderful' and you'd be walking on air because they enjoyed your performance.
"Then you go into a show like EastEnders and people start rummaging in your shopping trolley in the supermarket and that's scary. They don't see you as an actor. They see you as something else.
"The fame makes my job harder. If I want to go off and play Hedda Gabler next week, for instance, people will say, 'Is she going to do it in a police uniform?'."
* Too Many Mothers by Roberta Taylor, is published by Atlantic Books, priced £16.99. Out now.