Tell us about yourself?
I am a writer and photographer, having worked for almost twenty years in Africa, Asia and the Balkans for humanitarian organisations. When I started, I was very young and inexperienced, but it was an incredible way to see and learn about the world. In different ways I learned about how to respectfully gather people’s stories for a greater good, and to bear witness to important things happening, often out of the sight of the mainstream media. These elements blended together in a short story set in Angola, where I worked in the early 2000s, and then started to evolve into something more.
My debut novel, Into the Mouth of the Lion, was published by Unbound on 6 May 2021. It is a fast-paced mystery about a young photographer flying into the final days of Angola’s civil war to try to find her missing sister. It is also a love story that crosses from 1960s Lisbon to London to the highlands of Angola.
Are you working on something now?
I have written a sequel to Into the Mouth of the Lion, and am approaching publishers and agents. I really hope I can get it moving soon, but traditional publishing is notoriously slow! It is provisionally called A Pace Ahead of Shadows and is the continuing story of Lena, the photographer in the first book, working in Darfur, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a dual-narrative book, where we also have Lena’s teenage son, walking the streets of Paris for one night on the way to Kenya to meet the father he has never known.
I also have a draft of a book set in London, another set in Boston, and I am playing with ideas for another book set in Kosovo, where I first started in refugee work in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Which six books will you take to the Island?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I remember reading this a few years ago, and just being wrapped up entirely in this moving story about a blind French girl living with her father in St Malo, Northern France, during the German occupation of Paris. Her story becomes intertwined with that of a German orphan living in hiding, as the war draws to a close in 1944-45.
. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I re-read this book every now and then, and it never fails in its impact on me. It is about the difficulty facing adulthood, trying to be true to yourself and the people you love, in a world full of phonies.
An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
I read this book during a long stay in Paris one time, which made the book leave an even stronger impression on me, because many of Zeldin’s characters in this non-fiction book are from France, but also experiencing something universal. Essentially, the book is about how we are human, and flawed, and wonderful… all of us will grapple with existential dilemmas and every day problems in our different ways. Using examples throughout history and countries, we can take inspiration from others around the world who have approached things slightly differently and maybe succeeded where they didn’t think it was possible. A brilliant book.
Which disc will you take to the Island?
I love Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom. We played it at our wedding, as we walked down the aisle. It is just so moving it brings me to tears, even though I’ve heard it so many times I should be immune to it by now.
What will be your luxury item?
I would bring some kind of music player that was guaranteed to work, so perhaps a CD player with a broad selection of CDs and a solar-powered connection, so it would never fail or be dependent on some dodgy wi-fi connection. But since music is a basic need, perhaps that’s not luxury enough? Otherwise, I would choose my camera – somehow made fully waterproof -- and unlimited battery life to take dramatic landscapes and close ups of exotic desert island plants, fish and textures in nature.
Which fictional character will you meet?
I was thinking that it would be really fun to meet Donna, Meryl Streep’s character, from Mamma Mia, and dance around in dungarees until being rescued. But if it has to be a figure in literature, maybe I would choose Yazz, one of the younger characters in Bernadine Evaristo’s award-winning Girl, Woman, Other. I liked Yazz’s frank and funny perspective, seeing her mother’s theatre friends and the world around them with eyes wide open and a good sense of humour.