I was born on the Wirral (quite a long time ago now), and my writing career got off to a rocky start at Barnston Primary School where my creative writing was considered so bad, I was put on the writing equivalent of the naughty step, and stayed there for some time.
I’d like to say that from that day on, fired by a desire to prove my teachers wrong, I pursued a writing career with relentless intensity. But I didn’t.
What I did do, as a small and a not-so-small child, was listen to my father quite a lot. He was an extraordinary story-teller, and instilled in me – and in many others – a sense of the fun that could be had through the telling and hearing of tales. But apart from that, nothing much happened (writing-wise) for the next thirty years.
During that time, I took various exams, studied English and History at university, moved to London, worked in broadcasting, and read a lot of novels. By my late thirties, the trauma of creative writing with Miss Hewitt in Class Five having faded a little, I was ready to try again. My first novel, Mrs Hudson and The Spirits’ Curse, was written for my father, who had always speculated about Sherlock Holmes’ housekeeper, and about the stories she’d be able to tell. It was first published in The Netherlands, and then in the USA, as was the second in the series, Mrs Hudson and The Malabar Rose.
By then I’d acquired an agent, who informed me that I needed to write a bigger novel. “You mean longer?” I asked. “No,” she tutted, as though I was an idiot, “not longer. Bigger!” Mystified but willing, I came up with The Conjuror’s Bird, which sold first in the USA, but went on to become a Richard & Judy Book Club pick. The Unicorn Road followed, which nestled next to Barack Obama on The Times/WH Smith list of Top 100 Paperbacks of 2009. “You see,” my agent commented, as though it was obvious all along. “Bigger.”
By now I had acquired a laptop, so the novels should have begun to flow much more quickly. But the Mrs Hudson stories had been written in longhand, in cafes, with a good many old-fashioned crossings-out, and I was far too superstitious to change. So The Year After, a novel set in 1919, was mostly written in a cafe that smelled of fried eggs; Havana Sleeping, an espionage thriller set in C19th Cuba, was extensively fuelled by some excellent cakes. When that one was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger Award, my agent positively purred. Bigger, it seemed, had somehow been vindicated.
But Mrs Hudson – and Flotsam, her housemaid – wouldn’t give up their grip on me so easily. Their third adventure, Mrs Hudson and The Lazarus Testament, was written sneakily between other novels and came out in 2015. And the fourth installment, Mrs Hudson and The Samarkand Conspiracy, which features spies, blackmail, a vanishing train and a vicar who keeps losing his spectacles, was published in 2020.
I finished writing it on the day my father died. He’d have been very proud.