I was born in 1971, in London, on the hottest day of that year. It was the men’s final at Wimbledon and the title went to the Australian, John Newcombe, after five sets. As a result, I had many childhood birthday parties where we were in the garden and the adults were inside watching Bjorn or Martina take the last set on the telly!
How was your childhood?
Very stable. Very British. Very middle class. The Seventies was a great time to be a child. I had my bike, my Star Wars figures, and a faux leather jacket like John Travolta in “Grease”.
We moved to Jersey from London in 1975 so I also had access to fantastic beaches. My friends and I would spend the summer holidays there. Happy. Really happy.
How was teenage?
Pretty miserable. My school was all girls, very buttoned up, and completely unable to deal with anyone who was a bit different. I lost a number of my friends from childhood when they started to become interested in boys and I didn’t, which also meant that I missed out on the social rights of passage, such as parties, the local disco, getting drunk, wishing you hadn’t snogged the wrong person, etc. It’s hard to catch up on all that stuff once you’re an adult!
The one bright spot was amateur dramatics. Being an all girls’ school, nobody wanted to play the old man in the school plays, but I didn’t mind a bit and carved out a niche for myself in those parts. It felt like I was allowed to be myself on stage. It was acceptable there. The rest of the time was a constant battle to conform to what people wanted me to be.
I dealt with it all by working hard at school and university, and finished my formal education with a first.
What was your degree?
I studied english and computing. It’s a bit of an odd combination, but having two sides to my character – the artistic and the logical, organised manager – I need to keep them both happy! In 2002, I went back to studying part-time and got an M.B.A. from the Univesity of Durham.
How long have you been writing?
In earnest, since I finished college in 1992. Some periods have been more productive than others, depending on what else I have going on. But, it has always been there and always will be, I guess.
What is your writing day like?
I’m out at work until 1pm. When I get in, I grab a sandwich and I try to be disciplined about getting to my desk by 2pm. I write for three hours. Then, I deal with the admin – answer emails, set up meetings, Tweet, look at new marketing opportunities, etc – that takes until 7ish.
You work in the mornings?
Yes, I don’t earn enough from writing to stop working altogether, and I enjoy the company. Frankly, I need a break after three hours. I couldn’t write all day.
Your first two novels have a strong historical theme. Are you a frustrated historian?
Probably. I should have done history, but my history teacher took against me so that was that. Fortunately, my grandparents were amateur historians and took me to museums and sites of interest, and that passion has continued.
I like biography and true stories. Dealing with the subject matter that I write about, it is, by its nature, hidden history so I have to dig around a bit to find reading matter, but the book list is growing happily.
Which ten books would you take to your desert island?
I don’t tend to re-read books because I am a slow reader and there are too many books I want to read! So, I would find it hard to be limited to ten, but here’s my ten:
Winnie-the-Pooh by A A Milne
Howard’s End by E M Forster
The Hitchiker Trilogy by Douglas Adams
On Broadway by Damon Runyon
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Of Human Bondage by W S Maugham
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Jeeves Omnibus by P G Wodehouse
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Diaries of Virginia Woolf
What fact don’t many people know about you?
That I’m a qualified cricket umpire and a member of the E.C.B. A.C.O. I also ice celebration cakes for family occasions.
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