I am originally from Lancaster in the north of England but moved south to take up a job in the late 1990s. I now live on the edge of the Fens, north of Cambridge, with my husband and daughter. In some ways, I see myself as a northern writer, though that I am a writer at all surprises me still. Growing up in difficult family circumstances, in a working class community, I saw writing as something other people did (well, other men, mostly), but I always read. It never occurred to me that I could (or ever would) write a novel. When writing came, it came to me late and in a rush.
My first novel, The Words in my Hand, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and longlisted for the Prix du Roman FNAC. My second novel, The Year Without Summer, was published in Feb 2020 by Two Roads books. Further information about the book is towards the bottom of the following page: YWS. I am a MacDowell Fellow and worked on this novel there between November 2017 and January 2018. I am working on a third novel which will be published by Two Roads books in 2022. My short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, The Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland.
I write to face the world and I see writing as a way to push back. I am interested in fiction’s critical function: that is, how fiction can be used as a means to interrogate the past, (and to some extent to question how history is written). By turning attention on the past, I see fiction as a way to return us to fact.
The Words in My Hand — the story of Dutch maid Helena Jans and French philosopher Rene Descartes — questions the historiography around Descartes and the lack of curiosity many historians and biographers have shown his lover, Helena Jans. Helena knew Descartes at a pivotal time in his life — why, then, when their relationship is so well known, is she almost completely overlooked?
The Year Without Summer is a novel of climate crisis. It interested me that in 1816 most people had little or no knowledge of the Tambora eruption that devastated so much of the world that year. Those who had heard of the eruption did not understand its connection to what they were living through. Famine, disease, floods, wildfire, drought — all triggered by a small shift in global temperature. This disconnect between events and what people thought, seemed to reveal something that, though obvious, also felt pressing: that climate change happens whether you know of it or not; and, by extension, that climate change happens whether you believe it or not. Challenging belief as a way to comprehend the world is one of our most urgent challenges, I think. The climate crisis doesn’t care about belief. It bears down on us all. It did in 1816 and is doing so now.
In 2019, I was writer in residence at Wicken Fen, the National Trust’s oldest reserve and a site of international importance. I was also in receipt of a grant from Arts Council England (Developing Your Creative Practice) to work on a project on ‘placemaking’ at Waterbeach New Town. I have also worked collaboratively with artists in the UK and South Africa and my work has been funded under the Artists’ International Development Fund, (Arts Council England and the British Council). Details of that project, which saw me work with fine artist Richard Penn at Nirox, Johannesburg, can be found here: http://mailout.co/cambridge-based-artists-secure-arts-council-funding-to-develop-international-projects/ I’ve since been commissioned to produce work in support of Penn’s most recent exhibition, Surface Detail, at the Origins’ Centre.
I am represented by Veronique Baxter, at David Higham Associates.
The Words in My Hand is published by:
I can also be found online at: