Who are your influences?
HP Lovecraft, PG Wodehouse, Barbara Kingsolver.
How many books have you written?
To Conquer Heaven is my first book.
I am currently re-writing Habnab and will soon start on Huldufolk Magic.
I have another three books planned after that.
What is your favourite childhood book?
Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World”. I loved the story as a child because it coincided with a dawning realisation that there are different degrees of right and wrong. It is wrong to steal, but it is more wrong to rear animals solely for blood sport. It is wrong to trespass, but it is more wrong to defend your property with brutal violence. It is wrong to drive a car without a licence (at the age of nine), but it is more wrong to leave your father in danger.
When reading this book as a parent, I was amazed afresh at Roald Dahl’s ability to place himself in the shoes of his 9yo self (Danny) and ignore the influences of the subsequent decades. The sheer scope of the challenge of driving from the perspective of a child was boggling.
At the end of the book is the exhortation: “A message to children who have read this book. When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is sparky.”
As a parent, I try to live up this motto, and to the standard set by Danny’s father through demonstrating kindness, love, and a great curiosity about the world.
What inspired your most recent book?
To Conquer Heaven was sparked into being by a brilliant National Geographic documentary on the lost tomb of the First Emperor of China.
A gorgeous, immaculately groomed Chinese-French lady read aloud a passage of Sima Qian’s “Annals of the Grand Historian”. It is the only textual reference to the lost tomb.
“Replicas of palaces, scenic towers, and the hundred officials, as well as rare utensils and wonderful objects, were brought to fill up the tomb. Craftsmen were ordered to set up crossbows and arrows rigged to shoot down any intruder. Mercury was used to fashion imitations of the hundred rivers and the Yangtze, constructed in such a way that they seemed to flow.”
She looked up at the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and whispered “it sounds so exciting”.
I was enthralled by a sophisticated, glamourous academic who could not wait to cast off the Lacroix and grab a Fedora and a whip. That excitement led me on a journey of research and discovery where plausible conjecture and Mythbusters science laid a new tale across ancient ones.
What is your greatest ambition as a writer?
To make you miss your stop on the bus.