When and why did you start writing
I have written for as long as I remember – stories as a child, essays for English Literature A levels and long letters home from Africa where I went on my Gap year.
Writing proper started during a diploma in Creative Writing at Bristol university that I did while working still as a GP about ten years ago now- and the first draft of my first novel was started on the MA in Creative Writing that followed
Why: I loved the power it gave me as child to escape to a different more exciting world – I was lucky enough to be brought up in the fifties with no television, computers or mobile phones. I used to tell stories to my sisters who then drew them – they are now successful artists.
The letters I wrote home from Africa were my way of talking to my family, and of making sense of the world I was in – I used to look forward to writing in my rondavel on the mission school in Zimabawe; the electricity generator went off at 7 pm so I wrote by candlelight – again there were few distractions.
Medicine followed by family life absorbed my attention in the following years but when the children left home a gap opened up, one I seized with both hands. It gave me all those things I had glimpsed growing up – the power to escape, to create and to make sense of the world.
My first book is called Daughter – it began life as my dissertation on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa university, and was initially a story about loss. I wanted to write a homage to the way people cope in the face of loss with grace, something that I knew about from general practice. Important as this seemed I soon realised I needed a strong plot to pull readers through the story; I looked at the thing that I feared the most – what would happen if one of my precious five children went missing? I knew this would connect with readers, that they would need to turn the pages to find out what happened and so this became the central theme.
Agent & Publisher
I submitted a chapter for inclusion in the end of year anthology which was sent to agents who, we met at a launch in Foyles in London; I was approached by Eve White who has since become my agent and secured me a deal with Penguin. It was published a year later and was a Richard and Judy pick and then went on to become a Sunday Times Bestseller and the fastest selling debut of 2014. It was nominated for an Edgar award in the US and was sold worldwide, looking back it was a thrilling journey and I still feel very lucky.
I live in Bristol with my neurosurgeon husband Prof Steve Gill – who has an extremely busy life – now working on ground breaking research into Parkinson’s disease and children brain cancers. His work was recently the subject of a major two part BBC 2 documentary: Parkinson’s disease -?miracle cure. We met at medical school and have five children –all of whom have left home and have their own exciting careers.
I have started to host free retreats in our former country home for underprivileged writers, as retreats have played an important part in the evolution of my writing career.
What I bring to Oakwood Literature Festival
Experience as a writer of four novels – my way into a second career after years of general practice and how that plays into my work. The journey to publication, my writing process, motivations and inspirations. How I research settings place the value of plot, the importance of writing groups.
My most recent publication: is HOW FAR WE FALL – it is a modern twist on Macbeth – involving a young surgeon at the cutting edge of research and set in the ambitious world of Neurosurgery – where politics and morality collide just as they did in Macbeth. There is a central love story, a scheming woman and a murder as there was in Macbeth but the story allowed me to explore the psychology behind the characters. It was fascinating to plot out the moral downfall of the protagonist from idealistic young surgeon to criminal ,showing how that happened step by irremovable step in a way that readers could relate to. Shakespeare had magic to help him and I had to think very hard about how to make the story work – including the witches in a way that would stand up to 21stcentury scrutiny!
Current book: LITTLE FRIENDS will be published by Penguin in UK early 2020 and by Harper Collins US in autumn of this year. It concerns three London families who would not normally have met were it not for the fact, one of the mothers gives lessons for dyslexic children in her home, the families become obsessed with each other – a secret affair starts; left to their own devices, no one notices what their children are up to. The story is told by the three women from their different perpectives; there are also chapters in the children’s voices when you begin to understand what danger they are all in