1, I have always loved reading, it’s been my escape from a very young age. When I was about 7, I was so obsessed with the book 101 Dalmations that I copied the entire thing out by hand into notepads. I recently also found a load of books from when I was a teenager where I’d hand-made bookmarks with little reviews on them. I was so cool.
2, I am an extremely nosy person. Not in a bad way, but because I’m fascinated by people – their lives, what shaped them, their sense of humour. My career has always reflected this – being a journalist when I was younger, and now writing books. You have to be interested in real people to create fictional ones. My family always jokes that I can get an entire life story out of someone within minutes of meeting them.
3, I have always kept an Apocalypse Bag beneath my bed, stocked with essentials like loo roll, cereal bars, vitamins, water, fire-starting kits, purification tablets, duct tape and medicines. On the one hand, I see that this is a bit OTT and definitely speaks of some ongoing anxiety issues – not everyone thinks the end of the world is just around the corner, but I have a vivid imagination. That allows me to be an author – but it also allows me to foresee impending zombie uprisings, alien invasions and gas attacks. On the other hand, the spare loo roll did come in handy during the early stages of the global pandemic.
4, I grew up on a council estate as the child of a single mum, and went to a big comprehensive. We didn’t have a car, spare money, or even a phone for much of the time. It wasn’t harrowing – it was my ‘normal’. My mum always believed in education and taught me to read and write when I was 3, and I ended up going to Oxford University when I was 19. There I discovered that cheese came in more types than ‘white’ and ‘yellow’, that tea had different flavours, that ski-ing was real, that not everybody needed a part-time job, and that buying clothes from M&S was normal (I thought of it as the ultimate luxury brand). It was only when friends from Oxford came to stay in my block of council flats, complete with bin rooms and graffiti, and I went to stay in their country homes or London pads, that I started to understand the gap between my background and theirs. The culture clash was the making of me – it gave me so much confidence, and I forged friendships that are still going strong today.
5, I love history, and used to volunteer as an archaeologist – this mainly involved cleaning dirt off things with a toothbrush. My poor children have been dragged around ancient ruins and stone circles for the whole of their lives. It’s part of that nosiness thing again – I’m even curious about the lives of people who died thousands of years ago!
6, I cry when I’m angry, which is embarrassing but apparently unavoidable.
7, I am in my 50s, and have discovered yoga and gardening in middle age – it’s never too late to learn, and I’m still desperately seeking some sense of calm to offset that Apocalypse Bag mentality! I am trying, every single day, to do at least one thing that makes me smile or feel warm inside (alcohol doesn’t count).
The Moment I Met You by Debbie Johnson is published by Orion, £7.99 is published on 24 June 2021