Can you tell us about yourself?
I’ll start with the book! The Hit List is my fourth book and it’s just come out in paperback, it’s been out for a while in e book and audio format. It asks what you would do if you found your name on an assassin’s hit list and you had no idea who put you there. It’s definitely my scariest book to date, I got freaked out multiple times while writing it and even had to sleep with the lights on once when my husband was away. Not sure if I’ve admitted that before!
As for me, I’m a British author currently living in Amsterdam but planning to return home this summer. I have four kids, two dogs and one husband. I’m co-host of the Honest Authors podcast with one of my best friends, Gillian McAllister. We’re just wrapping up our fifth season, which shows a level of dedication rarely seen from me before. I hope we’re still doing it when we’re old lady holograms in the distant future.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished the copy edits on my next book, which will hopefully be out in November in ebook/audio (the paperback will follow a few months later). I can’t reveal the name or cover just yet but I’m really excited about it. It explores the kind of intoxicating adult friendship that doesn’t often get talked about but can be as thrilling – or as dangerous – as love at first sight.
What six books are you taking to the Island?
This is so hard! I’m going to start at the beginning, with the book that first kept me reading under the covers secretly as a little girl.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
When people clutch their pearls about gritty subjects in kids’ books today, I think they forget that there is a long history of dark material for young readers! The Secret Garden features enormous trauma (Mary’s whole family has been wiped out!), abuse and neglect (they were wretched to her when they were alive), loneliness, yet more grief, illness and a load more trauma. But at its heart, it’s – like so many of my own books – about friendship and the restorative power of daring to connect to people, even when you’ve been so badly hurt. I think that core of hope and optimism will help me on the island as I grapple with the trauma of being away from loved ones.
The next one twins my love of writers’ travelogues with Cold War History…
A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck
If this sounds dry, I’m doing a real disservice because it’s pacey, funny and fascinating. John Steinbeck is joined by infamous photographer Robert Capa in a 1948 journey through the USSR. I can’t overstate what a unique concept it was at the time for a venerated American novelist (not to mention a dogged war photographer) to be allowed behind the iron curtain like this. Steinbeck set out to do "honest reporting, to set down what we saw and heard without editorial comment, without drawing conclusions about things we didn't know sufficiently”. And while Stalin’s Russia was one of brutal control and censorship, what emerged was a really generous and wonderfully written snapshot of the real people living there.
Next I’m going to choose a book that I’ve always intended to read and haven’t got round to, partly because it’s a behemoth…
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
Not only is it a massive book so it’ll keep me going for ages, but being on the island might be what it takes to get me to sit down and read it. My husband’s read it and later listened to the whole thing on audiobook too and it sounds fascinating and also accessible (I love how Bertrand Russell phrased things, always so clear eyed) but it’s so long I keep putting it off. Now maybe I’ll sit in my handmade hammock and finally crack it open.
After that I’ll need something lighter and dreamier. Continuing my love of novelists’ travelogues…
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This little book is exquisitely written, hilarious in places and so evocative around being a writer in Paris in the days of the Lost Generation.
The chapter where Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald go on a road trip is funnier than any buddy movie, and reading that again will cheer me up no end.
I first read this – appropriately – when I went to Paris by train with my husband for my 40th birthday. So it will also remind me of that special time, just before pandemic grounded us all, and that special man. (My husband, not Ernest.)
Given I had to sleep with the light on while writing The Hit List, this is probably unwise but…
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I read it once before but found it much tougher to get into than most of her books on account of all the exclamation marks. I don’t know if I read a weird edition, but it was really jarring. Because I love so many of her other novels, and her plots really are like pieces of intricate lace, I really want to appreciate this one. And being on an island will certainly add an extra poo-your-pants factor.
Finally, a confessional choice…
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
For years I honestly thought I had read it. God knows what I was mistaking it for but it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t read Rebecca despite owning a copy. Not only that, but after I realised I continued to pretend that I had read it because everyone else who writes in my genre seems to know it inside out. I realise this is weird behaviour, and now I can finally catch up with my own lies.
Thank you also but I’ll leave the bible and save the weight in the baggage. In fact… I reckon a box of chocolates would be about the same size and weight so maybe I could sneak that in instead? (I know, I know, just trying my luck!)
What disc are you taking with you?
This is even harder! OK, I know it’s going to be a Bowie track. My most enduring fandom, since I first watched Labyrinth as a kid and then dug my mum’s copy of Alladin Sane out of her record box (which I’d stolen by then!).
I could do a whole Desert Island Discs purely from his back catalogue and still find THAT hard to whittle down so this is brutal… I’m going to go with Station to Station from the album of the same name. Slightly for practical reasons, it’s 10 minutes long so that’s a lot of song. My actual favourite Bowie song is Sound and Vision but that’s over in a flash!
Station to Station is kind of his Bohemian Rhapsody in that it’s multiple songs in one and I hear something different each time. It’s moving, soaring, paranoid and cheerful. I can’t not tap my feet to it (which is as close as I get to dancing). Listening to Bowie on the island would remind me of the creative parts of myself while I was pining for my family. By the time I was rescued, I’d probably have whittled loads of Ziggy Stardust figurines out of sticks or something mad.
What luxury are you taking with you?
Ideally, I would have gone for something hygiene-related because even pre-pandemic I was a massive germophobe but I think that counts as too practical. So I’m going to go with a nice comfy dressing gown. A really, really fluffy one.
* OK it kinda bends the rules but we kept the chocolate from earlier so will give you it.
Which fictional character will you meet?
I think Jack Reacher would be pretty helpful but if I’m going to be rescued so soon after, whatever shelter he can help me build is a bit redundant. So, I’m going to go for Raoul Duke, the protagonist of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the thinly fictionalised proxy of Hunter S Thompson himself. I hope I can sneak that past the adjudicators! I reckon four hours would be all I could take, but what a four hours!