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.
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.
What is your research and writing process like?
My research process always begins with reading, reading, and more reading. Because I am interested in history, and enjoy biography and historical non-fiction anyway, I have a good grasp of the flashpoints in British history. That helps as I know where to start looking. Sometimes where I think a story might be turns out to be a dead end. At other times, I get side-tracked and discover an unexpected little gem that I can use. If I’m lucky, I hit upon the right piece of history at the first go. That happened with the first half of Black Art. The second half was trickier, and it took several attempts to get the right fit.
I absorb everything I can about the era I’ve chosen, make lots of notes, and let it settle for a while. Then, I create the story’s structure. I like to work with a really strong frame so I spend a lot of time building it, testing it, and pulling it apart before I start writing. The writing puts flesh on the bones and is usually the easier part. If the writing doesn’t flow or seems forced, I will stop and revisit the frame because that’s usually where the problem lies.
What drew you to self-publishing?
I’ve always been a self-starter and an autodidact. I also have a background in the computer industry so the idea of learning how to self-publish, and the challenge of selling the final novel, appealed to me. I weighed up the pros and cons very carefully and came to the conclusion that self-publishing was the route I wanted to take.
By self-publishing, I retain control over all aspects of the novel; I am not forced to do publicity I don’t want to do; I have no advance and, therefore, no pressure to write to a deadline; I can move swiftly without waiting for others to make decisions; and, I can write what I want to write without being pigeon-holed in one particular genre. The disadvantages to self-publishing are that I have to bankroll myself; I have nobody to check me if I am heading in the wrong direction; I have to do my own publicity; and, I have to motivate myself every morning. For me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
I’m not ruling out traditional publishing, but it was not how I wanted to start out. Now, at least, if a traditional publisher approaches me, I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been at the sharp end.
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
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