Tell us a bit about yourself. You’re an editor by trade--why did you choose to venture into writing?
I’m not sure it was a choice! I’ve always been drawn to writing, storytelling, creating characters, imagining worlds. When I write I become completely absorbed in what I’m doing—it’s the thing I want to do most and everything else fades away. This is one definition of happiness. Of course there are also many times when I pace up and down the room racked with self-doubt and frustration, but that’s all part of the process.
As for my job as an editor—I’ve worked in publishing ever since I finished university. I’m lucky—I’m good at English but rotten at almost everything else. This made it very easy for me to decide what job to pursue. I love reading and talking about books and I love being around inspiring, intelligent, creative people. So publishing was the obvious choice. I could have become a teacher like my mother, I suppose—but when you work in publishing, there is the added bonus that you can nip to the loo whenever you want.
How did you come up with your subject?
It all started with my main character, Tom Hawkins. He’s a young, impulsive gambler who has been living on his wits in 1720s London after being disinherited by his father. (Following an unfortunate incident in a brothel.) He’s terrible with money, so it seemed inevitable that he would end up in a debtors’ prison. So I began to research the various prisons of the time and came across the story of the Marshalsea gaol. I became fascinated by the way the prison was run and the story of its sadistic, charismatic keeper William Acton. I realized that it would be the perfect place to set the entire novel.
Who is your favorite character in the novel?
It’s dangerous having favorites when you write crime novels. You might have to kill them off…
I love it when readers tell me their favorites, though. I know at least one person who wants to marry Tom. Which would be a huge (if enjoyable) mistake.
Do you have any other works in progress?
I’ve just delivered the sequel. I’ve really fallen in love with the period and the world I’ve created. I just hope I can drag readers along with me for the ride!
Who is your favorite author?
I don’t have one favorite. I tend to have favorite books, rather than authors. Frankenstein, The Woman in White, Catch 22, Our Mutual Friend, Remains of the Day, Gormenghast, A Place of Greater Safety, The Constant Gardener, Cold Comfort Farm, Njal’s Saga, Watchmen, and so many more. That variety is part of the joy of reading, for me. So many worlds to explore.
And lastly, a bonus question. If you could live in any time period, what would it be?
Right here, right now. Any other answer speaks of regret or escape. I like to look my own time period in the eye and live in it just as well as I can.