Bio

My father’s passion for books, my mother’s way with words and habit of exaggeration, and the general craziness of our household are probably all behind my compulsion to write. As a child, I loved everything school had to offer: writing, science, art. I studied English Literature at university and graduated in 1979. Although I had won writing competitions as a child (a bizarre children’s cruise around the Adriatic, a bus trip around Europe), it was only after university, and very gradually, that I began to write seriously, supporting myself by means of temporary jobs and then a training as carpenter and joiner. My first novel, Back in the First Person, was published in 1986, followed by another the year after. At this point I decided to enrol for the MA in Creative Writing at UEA, taught, then, by Rose Tremain and Malcolm Bradbury. During the MA, and for some years after this, I found myself juggling writing and teaching. I taught fiction writing and literature courses for universities in the UK, Finland and Estonia. I held long-term writer’s residencies in many schools and a variety of other institutions and communities, including a fishing village and a category B men’s prison. Two more books were published.

By the mid-nineties, I was pretty much exhausted. Times were hard in publishing. As in Music, a book I’m still fond of, didn’t make it into paperback despite great notices.  Disillusioned, I tried to give up writing novels, dabbled with writing for TV, and then undertook a lengthy training as a counsellor and psychotherapist. I worked briefly in a therapeutic community for drug users. It was all very interesting but as time wore on I had to admit that yes, I was, in fact, writing another novel. By this time I was in my late thirties; I had met my husband to be and was pregnant. The first draft of my fifth novel, The Story of My Face (eventually to be long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2002) and my first child arrived at around the same time. Revision was as a result rather slow, but the book was being edited for publication by the time I had my second baby.

In 2001 my family and I decided to try out life on an island off the coast of British Columbia. It was as I sorted through papers to pack or jettison that I rediscovered an abandoned novel based on my prison residency and decided to resurrect it. In doing so I set myself many challenges, not the least of them being research at a distance of several thousand miles. On the other hand, one of the benefits of our rather impetuous move has been a writing office in the woods, not just a room of my own but a whole building, with a view – and a solar panel, too.  The novel, Alphabet, came out in 2005, and  I have written five books  in that office now.