When and where were you born?
In 1982 I was born in a small village in West Yorkshire where there were more sheep than people. No traffic, one shop, two pubs and lots of fields to play in - perfect. I love the country and, though I’ve enjoyed living in cities, I am definitely happiest in the middle of nowhere surrounded by hills.
What were your hobbies when you were growing up?
I loved acting and dancing and learnt ballet and tap for many years, even teaching it at one point as a Saturday job. I also played the violin and piano but my passion was always for the stage rather than music. My mum forced me to practise so I used to record myself and then play the recording while I watched TV with the volume down to convince her I was working hard. I also loved the outdoors and still do. I go walking every day to have a break from writing. I probably should get a dog so I don’t look quite so strange striding across a field on my own.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Unsurprisingly, I loved English. I was and still am an avid reader and I liked writing stories. My classmates at primary school used to say I’d be a writer. I wasn’t convinced because at the time I wanted to be a detective like Miss Marple.
When did you know you wanted to write?
When I found out that being a detective wasn’t exactly as Agatha Christie portrayed! I was about ten when I seriously thought about being an author, though I also went through stages where I considered acting, journalism, medicine and being Jack Bauer.
Where did you go to university and did you study creative writing?
I went to Oxford and studied English Literature, not creative writing. It was a good foundation as I spent three years analysing how texts are put together and why they’re effective, which I think has helped me as a writer.
Have you always been an author?
No. When I graduated I secretly wanted to be an author and wrote the first chapters of many different books, but I never had the confidence in the idea or the patience to get past the opening. It also seemed a bit of a ridiculous career goal so instead I got a job at a TV company working on things like You’ve Been Framed (far more sensible). After that I did a stint in PR and then retrained to be an English teacher, which I loved.
So how did you become an author?
Having never had a gap year, I decided to travel with my husband. In a youth hostel in Ecuador I got the idea for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece in the middle of the night and wrote the book in notepads in lots of different countries. When I got home I finished it, typed it all up and edited it before sending it off to an agent.
Was it easy to get published?
I was lucky because the second agent who read Mantelpiece offered to represent me. After that things happened very quickly. I had a publisher a few weeks after signing with my agent and it all sort of snowballed from there. I am now writing full time.
Describe your working day.
I work much better in the morning so I try to get up early. I am normally writing by 6.30am and I do five hours before taking a break, during which I go for a walk, go to the gym and have lunch. Then in the afternoon I’ll do a bit more if I’m feeling energetic or else reply to emails. I normally turn off the computer at about 5pm.
What are your favourite novels?
My favourite book of all time is The Go Between by LP Hartley, a poignant, perceptive and utterly beautiful coming-of-age tale. I also love We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. In terms of young adult novels (if there is such a thing), my favourites are Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and Before I Die by Jenny Downham, the only book that’s made me cry and just gob-smackingly brilliant. Oh, and I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan too. Don’t tell anyone but I always listen to the audio book before I go to sleep...
What’s the best thing about being an author?
This is difficult to answer because I enjoy absolutely everything about it. Two things stand out, though. I love that moment when I’m shut away in my study with my characters and everything’s flowing. My fingers are racing across the computer keys and the story feels so real it’s almost alive, playing out in my mind as if it’s actually happening and my job is just to capture it in words before it disappears. That’s a brilliant, rare experience. I also love meeting readers and talking to them about my book and other novels, sharing a mutual passion for stories and the world of once upon a time.