I was born in Warwickshire, England - the youngest by ten years of three children. In my teens the family moved to Yorkshire. After school in Leeds, I gained an Honours degree in Literature from Lancaster University, and worked for five years in Manchester and Liverpool. All my life I've been mesmerised by words : I dream sometimes in verse, or about books that come to life in my hands. One of my earliest memories is standing in a bookshop, looking at the seeming mountain of books above me on the shelves, and thinking I could hear voices coming from them. (When I saw Inkheart, I nearly jumped out of my seat!!) My mother would take me to the library when I was two or three and be amused by my opening the books and looking not at pictures, but at print that I couldn't decipher. I vividly recall the frustration of wanting to know what it all said.
Ten years after University I was living in Germany, and daughter Kate had arrived. I had a dream of writing a novel. On a whim one day, when Kate was only six months old, I entered a national short story contest. A friend bet me that I couldn't write a story while she looked after Kate for the afternoon. I bless that friend - she saw something or heard something in me that I didn't even know was there, and boy, do I owe her for that perception. She set off a chain of events that she could never have imagined. There were four thousand entries in the competition, and as I posted mine I thought, 'That doesn't stand a chance.' It was folded four times, crushed into an envelope too small. I can see it now going into the postbox, such an insignificant thing, so full of significant hopes. I won the competition. For the next six years I wrote for IPC magazines and had 125 short stories and serials published. Short story writing concentrates the mind wonderfully, and I learned a lot in that time, but I had a goal in mind. I wanted to write a novel.
My first book was published in 1994; five others followed. In 1998 I changed tack a little and wrote two more: comedies under the pen name Holly Fox. They made me laugh until tears ran down my face, and I would think, 'There's two possibilities here. One: they really are funny. Two: I'm certifiable.' (You judge!) In the evenings, I taught creative writing. Those classes taught me a lot about seemingly ordinary people making extraordinary imaginative journeys; about the story locked inside us all; about perseverance.
Unfortunately in 1999 my life took a rapid downward trajectory. My husband and I separated and subsequently divorced; the family home went on the market. I felt that I'd gone into freefall. Holly Fox had not sold very well and I had no other publishing deals. After the house move, I ended up in hospital with pneumonia, and just two weeks later, my mother died. In desperation one day, surrounded by packing cases, I sat down and wrote an outline of the kind of book I had always wanted to do. It was the story of the Franklin expedition of 1845 – two great ships and 156 men who set out to find the North-West Passage, and vanished without trace. After finishing the synopsis in a single morning, I took my dog out for a walk on the hills nearby. Exhausted by much more than the walk, I eventually sat down in the frosty grass and cried. I knew that I had no chance, and no writing future. Nobody wanted to hear about Arctic voyages.
But a miracle happened to me in January 2000: The Ice Child was not only accepted for publication in the UK, but in 16 other countries. Here came another of those absurd leaps in life: I found myself on book tours in Europe and for the first time my books were published in the USA. That was the beginning of a long and happy association with the States, and with my editor Wendy McCurdy and my agent in New York, Liv Blumer.
For the last seven years running, I've been in the top 6% of borrowed authors in UK libraries, and I hope my future books will prove just as popular.