Why I write

me,profileI was born in London in the Seventies on my brother’s second birthday; his party had to be cancelled. My mum and dad, a biographer and publisher respectively, owned a Victorian townhouse in Islington, and ran a publishing company from its basement. When I was six years old, my dad left my mum for a guru in Poona, India, and we didn’t see or hear from him for six months. When he eventually returned to London, he was dressed from head-to-toe in the colours of the sunset, with a mala around his neck made of wooden beads, and a portrait of his new love at its centre. He told us he had been reborn and he had a new name. My dad then proceeded to live in different countries around the world, where my brother and I followed him during our holidays, and he settled in Italy, and finally California. When I was seven years old my father gave me my first notebook and told me to write down all my thoughts and feelings, and so I began to write.

Since then, writing has become essential to me. I learned very early on that it helped to empty my head and ease my heart, and somehow reading what I had written made everything clearer. As a schoolgirl, I became a confessional diary writer, and followed by writing stories. My stories grew, until I had three or four full-length novels. My friends looked forward to hearing the latest instalments during our breaks at school. I remember showing one of my mum’s friends my first novel, when I was about ten years old. He was a publisher and I secretly hoped he might recognise my talent and publish me, but he found the whole thing amusing. He told me to keep at it. Which I did. I dreamed that one day I would appear on ‘Wogan’, as the World’s Youngest Novelist.

I did make it some years later with my debut novel, SHADOWING THE SUN. I’d become self-conscious throughout adolescence and stopped writing fiction. Unsettled, and easily distracted, I needed all the energy I could muster to get through school and to university. After graduating, I landed a job at Time Out Magazine where I spent my twenties editing guidebooks on cities around the world, books on London, and writing restaurant and shop reviews. On leaving Time Out, my work colleagues gave me money to enrol on an Arvon Course, where I met Julia Bell and Jackie Gay. The idea for my first novel came to me while drinking red wine next to the fire, and Julia encouraged me to look into doing an MA. I enrolled at Sheffield Hallam University, where I was mentored by Jane Rogers, and left some years later with a novel, a distinction and my amazing agent, Judith Murray. I was published by Portobello Books soon after.

I had the idea for my next novel  when walking along the coastal path in the furthest reaches of Cornwall, where we spend our summers each year camping with a group of families. Interested in the dynamics between friends who come together each year, the habits formed, secrets concealed, I imagined a tragic accident, and how carefully constructed lives and relationships would rapidly unravel. I have recently finished TOWARDS THE PEBBLED SHORE.

I am currently doing a PhD in Creative Writing at Birkbeck university, where I am writing a hybrid memoir, with central questions around addiction. THE FOG AND THE SEA, my account of my father’s alcoholism, has been published by Granta https://granta.com/the-fog-and-the-sea/, and, more recently, IT’S ONLY SKIN https://granta.com/its-only-skin/ about my experience as a child artist’s model. I teach creative writing to undergraduates at Birkbeck and Bath Spa University, and co-run London Lit Lab, with fellow writer and friend, Zoe Gilbert http://www.londonlitlab.co.uk/ where we teach private workshops, as well as working for Google, the British Library and RIBA, and run a mentoring and critiquing service. I am currently talking to a publisher about our Arts Council funded anthology of recovery stories, A WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE, which evolved from my teaching a group of recovering addicts through St Mungo’s and a national callout.