One of my ancestors was Admiral FitzRoy, who invented a type of barometer as well as the weather forecast, and therefore saved many lives at sea. He was also captain of HMS Beagle and a friend of Charles Darwin’s. I like to believe that ships and the sea are therefore part of my DNA.
I am scared of flying, even though one of my main characters, Charlie, is in the Fleet Air Arm and flies a Fairey Swordfish.
My grandmother and her sisters – who were also FitzRoys – are my greatest inspirations, a troupe of five girls who loved reading, writing, reciting stories and poems, and went on to live unusual lives, including working in the circus, in intelligence, as a dog trainer, as an author, as well as travelling extensively. Their father was away at sea with the Royal Navy for much of their childhood, and they were a family force to be reckoned with – women of indomitable spirit with a belief they could do anything.
Landscapes have a way of becoming part of me: I have a deep affinity with Scotland as I spent many happy holidays there, being allowed to run feral in the hills like my grandmother and her sisters before me. Zimbabwe, too, which was the first non-European place I travelled to, and where a friend of mine was teaching in a rural school two hours’ journey along a dirt road from the nearest town. This was straight after the confines of boarding school, and pre-mobile phones, so probably the most free I have ever been apart from Scotland. I learnt a lot about kindness, respect and community there. I am looking forward to going back and practising my Shona soon.
I love to sing, especially in a choir; there’s something special about singing with other people. Apparently heartbeats start to synchronise. I especially like folk music, and the stories within it that have been passed down for generations, and are about ordinary people; they are important historical records.
I have five brothers – all either half- or step- but they feel ‘full’ to me. We get on, as do our various parents, and I like to think we’re an example of how split families don't have to be a disaster.
I always knew I would live in the countryside one day, but hadn’t planned on it being quite so soon (13 years ago, when I was 30). Devon is a welcoming and beautiful county, and my next book is going to be set among its rolling hills, high hedges and deep valleys.
Nature is very important to me. My earliest memories are counting butterflies on the South Downs and listening to birdsong in the car with my grandmother. She knew the names of all the birds, butterflies and trees, in whichever part of the country we visited. She gave me my first guide to nature when I was eight. It is still one of my most treasured possessions, and is full of lists of all the creatures I have seen in the various places I have lived.
I would love to live abroad for a few years, although now our children are in school that is less likely as I think it is important that they are able to put down roots and develop strong bonds with their extended family. But I would also love them to be able to immerse themselves in different cultures – including being fluent in another language, something I don’t think the British (including me!) are very good at.
I have an unhealthy obsession with apocalypse-type stories. I am terrified about what kind of world we are creating: pollution, plastics, extinction of birds, animals, insects, destruction of the rainforests, the rise of bug-resistant antibiotics, intensive farming. I rebalance by instilling a love of the planet in my own children, and hoping that they may be the ones who help discover ways to reverse these things.