Born in 1968 in Newcastle upon Tyne, I have been a fan of the written word since I could read unaided, and have been writing stories for almost as long. As a child, the problem was never getting me to do my homework, it was getting me to stop.
My parents read me ‘Ivanhoe’ as a bedtime story which set the seed for a lifelong love of epic adventure. When I was eight, an inspired primary school teacher of the beardy, guitar-playing variety read my class ‘Beowulf’. I shocked his hippy sandals off by asking to borrow the book afterwards and then worked my way through Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and the entire YA section of my local library.
By the time I was 12 I had discovered ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘The Iliad’ amongst my father’s Penguin Classics and the die was cast. I was hopelessly in thrall to the alchemical process of putting words in a row and finding out what happens next.
At the age of 19 I declined to go to university, much to my parents’ chagrin, and took a job with a small software house on South Tyneside. As time passed and I moved into more customer-facing roles I discovered that the happy knack of being able to talk to anyone, at any length, was really called “excellent communication skills” and was a useful addition to the CV.
In 1997, in the middle of a messy break-up, I started writing about someone locked in the dark, struggling with a powerful force inside that couldn’t be understood or controlled – a metaphor, of course, for the dark and bloody emotions a girl feels when she gets her heart broken. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’d just written the opening scene of Songs of the Earth. Over the next ten years I picked it up, added a bit, unpicked a bit, put it down again, sometimes for years at a time. Similarities with Penelope and her embroidery are not lost on me!
In 2004 I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. My problems were mostly sensory and balance-related, which meant I spent a lot of time sitting down – occasionally without intending to. My on-again/off-again relationship with Songs had seen the manuscript grow to something approaching novel-size and I became compelled to finish it. No idea whether it was publishable or not, it was just a story that I couldn’t ignore.
When it was finished, of course, it was not in great shape. The early stuff didn’t sit well with the later chapters, the structure was muddled in places and it needed a good hard edit, only a little short of a total rewrite. Which I did. Twice. The end result… resonated with me. It’s the only way I can describe it. For the first time, I had no desire to go back and tinker with it.
But I still had all these characters yammering away at me, so I kept writing. Odd scenes, lone chapters totally out of sequence (I am a very organic, free-range sort of a writer, also known as a chaotic, disorganised mess. You don’t want to see the room where I wrote most of Songs. Really. It’s the kind of room your mother would ground you for a month for. My new office is much neater, but I suspect it won’t last.) Before I knew it, Trinity Moon was under way.
When my continuing health issues vs. four hours a day commuting finally came to a head, I gave up work to concentrate on trying to be a full-time writer. Serendipitously, at round about the same time, Gollancz offered me the opportunity to not only be a full-time writer but get paid for it. I should have done this years ago.
I currently live in Northumberland with my husband and two cats in a house full of books, some of which, eventually, will have my name on the spine.