I’m half-Arab and half-Scottish. Growing up in London, it seemed completely usual to me to have parents from such different backgrounds. Now I’m older I feel so grateful that I could take the acceptance of my extended family for granted. My family is now big and blended - with four siblings and in-laws and step-parents and step-siblings - we’re Muslim and Christian and Jewish and noisy and baffling and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t have any creative writing ‘qualifications’. As a teenager, I won a place on a week-long poetry workshop, but since then I’ve never taken any courses. If I have the chance, I’d love to learn how to improve my writing; but everything I’ve learned so far has been picked up from scrutinizing other people’s work. It’s an amazing opportunity to hone your skills if you can study further, but writing is one of the most inexpensive hobbies you can have. If you have the urge to write don’t let anything put you off.
My first published book was the fourth book I’ve written. The first two were terrible and the third was a speculative ‘soft’ science fiction story. I think all writers have a few half-written books hidden away in a drawer somewhere.
Classrooms are my idea of heaven. It might be greediness or nerdiness but there are always new topics I wish I was more knowledgeable about. One of the reasons I love writing historical fiction so much is that it satisfies that impulse to research.
I’ve been exorcised. My first novel, Things Bright and Beautiful, is drawn from my own experience living in the South Pacific. I was working on a small, remote island, where a local preacher had decided that the young women of the village were susceptible to demons, lurking in the rainforest. He’d perform these exorcism rituals on any unmarried women - including myself. The isolation and the strangeness of the situation was hard to cope with, never mind explain to my friends and family! Writing the book was initially my way of processing and communicating the experience.
All my novels have been written on an iPad mini. Not product placement I promise! It was a gift a few years ago and since then has become very weather-beaten and the screen is cracked in four places. Still, I’ve used it to write three novels using a wireless keyboard, straight into a word processor that auto-saves. Hugely recommend it if you have the urge to write but only have your commute or lunch-break, rather than long chunks of time.
Travelling alone is one of my favourite things to do. Even now it still makes me anxious but it is incredibly liberating, and has helped me to gain a lot of confidence. My favourite trip was riding the Trans-Siberian railway alone. I planned and saved up for months and there is nothing like finding yourself literally in outer Mongolia by yourself to boost your own self-reliance!
I’m a secret true crime fan. My grandmother was addicted to grisly murder shows and I think her enthusiasm must have rubbed off, because I can’t get enough of true crime documentaries and podcasts. I have to force myself to take a break from forensics every few days because otherwise my conversational pool becomes a bit limited and macabre.
Dancing prepared me for writing. I spent five years with an amateur all-women’s dance company and the amount of training and commitment that goes into dance was a great model for writing. And performing in public, on stage, in front of an audience was completely out of my comfort zone; especially because to do it well, you have to be 100% present and uninhibited. Pushing through that terrifying sense of vulnerability was an excellent motivator for sharing writing and has been helpful for public speaking events.
I have terrible motion-sickness. Sometimes I even get queasy on my bike. I especially dread car journeys and coach trips. Apart from maybe trams and hot air balloons, I’ve thrown up on every imaginable mode of transportation. The only silver lining about this is that it helped me to discover podcasts as a way to take my mind off long journeys.