I had an off-grid childhood in Wales where my parents were trying to live 'the good life'. I was home-educated which involved lots of drawing and writing, but no maths. When I got to secondary school I was so behind on maths I was put in the bottom class. Shortly afterwards the teachers realised I was quite clever and moved me to the top class. I was too embarrassed to admit I couldn't understand the maths. Somehow I spent four years in the top maths class, taking GCSE a year early. No one seemed to have noticed that I just didn't get it. Naturally I failed the exam (dismally!).
After London, Paris is my favourite city. When I was researching The Joyce Girl (which is set in Paris) I took every opportunity to pop over on the Eurostar. I love its combination of intimacy and history. I walk everywhere when I'm there, rarely taking the metro or using the bus service. I always try and visit my favourite art gallery, the Musée Marmotten Monet, and I often pay a visit to one of the city's cemeteries. Père Lachaise is a current favourite. And I always go to Shakespeare & Co - the world's best book shop.
I absolutely loath shopping (unusual, I know) unless it involves books or food. I have an expensive book buying habit, but it's justified by how infrequently I buy clothes. It's not that I don't love clothes (I do), it's just that I hate clothes-shopping and am convinced I look terrible in everything.
The first year profits from sales of The Joyce Girl go to a fabulous charity called YoungMinds, which helps young people and children with mental illness. I learned a lot about mental health as I was writing, and became acutely aware of the rising numbers of children and teenagers suffering from depression and eating disorders. Suddenly, writing novels didn't seem a very useful career and I wondered if I should retrain as a therapist or teacher. Deciding to donate my profits was a good compromise.
I sponsor a bursary/scholarship for a one-year creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia (which produced such luminaries as Tracy Chevalier, Rose Tremain and other famous names). To all budding writers out there - please apply!
After writing, the thing I love doing most is hiking with my family and dog. If I had my way (which I rarely do), I'd make every holiday a walking holiday. Recently, we've walked across the Alps, along the waterways of Madeira and across the Spanish High Sierra. Before I had children, I spent three months walking through the Himalayas and a week trekking on Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as other less exotic hikes. It's how I plan to spend my retirement…
And in order to stay fit and well enough to hike through my old age, I blog about food and youth. Keeping a blog forces me to think about what I do and what I eat, as well as letting me indulge my love of cooking and photography. The blog (www.kaleandcocoa.com) has over 2,000 followers and ensures I don't slip back to my old ways of not exercising enough and not eating enough vegetables!
I have four children who keep me completely grounded and sane. Being a writer involves spending long periods of time inside your head - which makes one very dull. My kids remind me, constantly, that they're the important ones, not the characters I've become so absorbed with. Irritating but necessary.
My 16-year old daughter is a brilliant writer and regularly tops the 'Favourites' lists at Wattpad. She writes historical fiction which can be read for free at https://www.wattpad.com/304698258-chasing-cecilia-prologue.
I have a wonderful old Labrador whom I adore. But she's not the first dog I've had. I'd always wanted a dog as a child - but never been allowed one. As soon as I got to university, I went to the local dog rescue centre and acquired a nine-month old mongrel. I knew nothing about looking after dogs. Bizarrely, the rescue centre didn't seem to mind that I was a student living in rented accommodation. Eight months later, I decided to take a year out and work for Mother Theresa in Calcutta. I found a wonderful couple to take over my bouncy, exuberant dog. Six months later they wrote to me, saying my (their) dog had given birth to twelve puppies! She'd obviously been pregnant when I handed her over. I was mortified. I lost touch with that wonderful couple but if they're reading this - thank you!