I write ‘literary mysteries’ – one part literary fiction, to one part crime.
I studied English at Oxford in the 1980s, and went back to do a doctorate in 2003. By that time I’d spent 15 years in business, first in the City, and later in PR for Guinness (now Diageo). There are two achievements I’m most proud of in my life, and the first one happened when I was doing that Guinness PR job. I created a worldwide humanitarian and environmental initiative called the ‘Water of Life’, named after the Gaelic phrase for whisky, uisge beatha (Guinness was then the largest producer of Scotch whisky in the world). Long after I left, the initiative is still going strong and has provided clean water for 5 million people in Africa in the last five years alone. I’m both proud and humbled by that.
The other thing I prize is my books. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and going freelance in 2000 gave me the time I needed to see if I could make that dream into a reality. Ten years and two and a half unpublished novels later, it finally happened. I’ve also published an academic book on Samuel Richardson, the ‘father of the novel’, and you can perhaps guess from that that doing things properly matters a great deal to me as a writer.
I spent an enormous amount of time refining my pastiche of Austen in The Mansfield Park Murder, and researching Victorian London so I could accurately ‘recall to life’ the world Dickens knew in The Man in Black, and the work required for The Frankenstein Monster was even more extensive.
In writing a fictional version of the Shelleys’ real lives I was scrupulous to remain faithful to the facts as we know them, but allowed myself the freedom to ‘fill the silences’, in an attempt to create a story that might explain the strange and dark aspects of the Shelleys’ history that even their biographers can’t explain. Many people who’ve read the novel have been astonished to find how little I’ve actually made up! And of course some have disagreed with my conclusions, but the whole point of fiction is that it leaves room for creative speculation, and that’s what I’ve done.
I’ve written more detailed pieces on how I approached all of my books, which you can find in the Blog section.
The most recent novel was inspired by Bran Stoker’s Gothic classic Dracula. It’s called The London Vampire, and The Dracula Society have been kind enough to say it “captures some of the best passages and elements of Dracula, while at the same time creating a thrilling and absorbing crime novel.”
I’ve appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review (click here for an example) and talked about Samuel Richardson on TV in A Very English Romance, with Lucy Worsley.