I was a Tomboy

As a child I wasn’t drawn to dolls or dressing up. My hair was cropped short and people regularly mistook me for a boy. I spent my weekends outside making camps in the woods, climbing trees, galloping ponies over jumps and whittling sticks with a penknife.

Jennifer McVeigh

Jennifer McVeigh

I Always Loved to Write

One of my earliest memories is lying by the fire, writing out a story on small pieces of card. When I was thirteen I wrote a novel. It took me months and when I was finally happy with it I copied it by hand onto pages which I bound together with thread and buttons. It had little merit as a piece of writing, but taught me the pleasure of creating a world entirely of my own which I could lose myself in.

I am American

My parents come from Long Island, New York, and I have travelled on an American passport most of my life.

I Went to Boarding School

I was sent to boarding school when I was seven years old. It was an old, draughty country house by a river. The walls of the long corridors were lined with huge oil paintings which the girls said wept tears at night. I was hungry all the time, letters home were strictly censored, and I shared a dormitory with ten other girls. We used to lie in bed dreaming up impossible escape plans. It gave me a horror of institutions.

I worked in a Publishing House

About ten years ago I had a job at Penguin, making coffee and inputting contracts into the central database. Secretly I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t dare admit it even to myself. It seemed laughable then to imagine I could be the one writing the books, but the impossible happened, and I am back at Penguin, this time with my own name on a contract.

My Own Personal Version of Hell

Is a drinks party.

On Our Honeymoon

My husband and I went to East Africa on a camping expedition, just the two of us, with no guides or safari camps to fall back on. We flew into Nairobi, and drove across the Maasai Mara to Lake Victoria, down into Tanzania, through the extraordinary, jaw dropping remoteness of the Western Serengeti and out of the other side, camping every night on the roof of our Land Rover.

I have a Dog

A wirehaired pointer called Duke. He is ginger, very big and gauky, with huge paws, and he carries our shoes around the house depositing them behind curtains and under chairs.

My First Novel was Rejected

This happened more than once. On one occasion I was offered representation by an agent who must have afterwards let my manuscript fall into the slush pile. A month later I received an earnest typed letter from the agency: “Dear Miss McVeigh, many thanks for sending in your manuscript. I’m very sorry to inform you that…”

A Book which Influenced Me

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s is an arresting and beautifully crafted story of Kenya’s fight for independence. It showed me the power of a story’s ability to shift perspective, changing everything I thought I knew about East Africa by unraveling the lives of black Kenyans living under British rule. It was the first novel I read which wasn’t told from an imperial, European perspective and the difference was radical.