I was born in Oxford in September 1975, the only child of a civil engineer father and an artist and folk singer mother. From my mother’s side my blood is Welsh and Irish, from my father’s English and Scottish, so I consider myself a true Brit. I love the history of these islands and the richness of our creative heritage. My own discovery of the magic of storytelling came first through my grandfather. Later, when my family moved to a fishing village in Devon, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic English teacher at school. It was here that I started writing poetry, then stories, then articles for the school newspaper. I can’t remember exactly when my desire to write hardened into a decision to become a journalist. I think I was about 14 and had come to the conclusion that writing stories really wasn’t a proper job at all.
Over the next few years, I continued to write poetry in private, reams of the stuff, most of it dreadful, with the odd gem that won me certificates or publication in various anthologies. I did a week of work experience on the local paper (when you’re 15, interviewing old ladies about their cat being stuck up a tree is surprisingly exciting) and was picked to write and edit a monthly Young People’s Page for a regional newspaper. When I won an award for my articles, I was certain I’d picked the right career. I moved out of home when I was 17 and took A-Levels in English, Art and Communication Studies at Exeter College, where I was amazed by Shakespeare, confounded by Chaucer, and drank far too much beer. In my 2nd year, I was elected Communications Officer for the student union, drank even more beer, and edited the college magazine. It was at this time that my interest in music began to return.
My parents were folkies; my mother sang in a band and my earliest memories are of sitting about in fields surrounded by empty ale tankards, whilst some portly man sang John Barleycorn through his beard. I remember my father and I howling like wolves whenever my mother tried to sing at home, but despite my outward ridicule of the whole thing, music – folk and all – seeped under my skin early on and stayed there. I began singing in clubs in my teens, my back turned to the audience like Jim Morrison. At college I fell in with a few touring bands and spent summers on the festival circuit. But being surrounded by talented musicians puts you off if you’re an amateur, so I decided to stick to what I did best. I’d be a music journalist!
I moved to Brighton when I was 19, after hitching there on a whim, not ready to do the university thing. One evening, I was backstage at a London gig with a journalist from NME. I’d just told him that I wanted to do what he did. He shook his head, took a swig of his pint, then told me I couldn’t be a journalist. “You’re too nice,” he said, matter-of-factly, “you’ll never get anywhere.”
One night in the pub, I saw an advert for volunteers to work on a forthcoming local festival. There was a meeting the next evening, so I went along. What started as a small event turned into a full-scale music extravaganza that I ended up jointly co-ordinating with another woman. It was a free festival that saw 20,000 in attendance in the first year and double that the next. From booking toilets, to liaising with council officials, to advertising, we did everything. We ran on adrenaline, Pro-Plus and cider. But success was our downfall. The council decided we had become too big and refused permission for a third. I spent the next summer at the numerous illegal raves that were popping up all over Britain. I remember a mountaintop party during a protest against blast-mining in Wales, fire-breathing on a café roof on Brighton seafront, a decoy sound-system van chased by police across Sussex, throbbing techno in abandoned cinemas, paint factories and London council buildings. I don’t, it is fair to say, remember much else.
But summer eventually came to an end. I took out my piercings, unbraided my hair and got a job, first in a Brighton nightclub, which I ran for a year, then as a bar supervisor for a chain pub. It was the worst job I’d had since I was 13 when I spent a day cleaning out chalets on a holiday camp. My boss was an ogre and the pay ridiculous. A knight in a shiny red sports car, who was a director in a hi-fi company and happened to frequent the pub, saved me. He gave me a temporary job. I left the job, but stayed with him. We’ve been together ever since.
Finally, at 22, worn down by the late nights and low wages of the entertainment business, I decided I needed a career. I applied for a load of grown-up sounding jobs and got one in a building society, initially working the tills, then offering investment advice to customers. My family and friends were shocked. I had a nametag and a suit, and even stranger, maths was without doubt my least favourite thing in the entire world. I thought long-term, however, and took all the necessary steps to get me on the way to becoming a financial consultant. But something was wrong. Several months in, I started writing a novel. It was to be the first of a fantasy series. I wrote constantly, furiously: first thing in the morning, on a pad in the office lunchroom, at night, every weekend. After 6 months I had a 350,000 word novel (almost twice the size of Brethren). I think this creative outpouring, vomiting it felt like, was due to the fact that work was so uncreative. I hated the whole corporate world, complete with business initiatives, gold stars and politics. It wasn’t me and in the end I left.
In the autumn of 2000 I went to Egypt and fell in love, with the dust, the desert, the history and the people. When I returned, I started a foundation course in creative writing at Sussex University. By the end of that year, I had begun writing Brethren, which I’d had the concept for the year before. It was to be the biggest, most challenging undertaking of my life. 7 years from the first idea to the first print run, researching as I went, having never studied history.
When the foundation course finished I went on to do a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, the Arts and Education, again at Sussex. I worked with some great tutors and writers, and earned a distinction. I also continued to write Brethren, which had now become a trilogy, and after 13 rejections an agent signed me up the day before I graduated. For the next year, I kept on writing, did a teacher training course and taught creative writing in local colleges. Brethren was rejected by publishers on its first send out, although 3 editors wanted to see it again with revisions. By this point, I was seriously financially-challenged, having got so far only through my partner’s support and the aid of family and friends. I took a deep breath, quit my teaching job and rewrote the novel for the last time, knowing that if it didn’t go, I would have to stop and head into teaching full-time to bring in the bread. It went. After a heated auction, the Brethren Trilogy found a wonderful home at Hodder & Stoughton.
Now, I live and write in Brighton. I sing in the shower, still write bad poetry, avoid maths, still drink too much beer and love folk songs.