With one English parent and one American parent (of French descent), I passed my childhood partly in Staffordshire and partly on the east coast of America. I spent summers in a remote area on the coast of Maine and later lived on the Chesapeake Bay, where I sailed my small boat into dangers that now fill me with horror. It was all grist to the authorial mill, however, and provided the background for my novel A Running Tide.
Around my sixteenth birthday, I finally settled permanently in Britain and attended Wolverhampton Girls’ High School, from which I won a scholarship to study Literae Humaniores at Somerville College, Oxford. Soon after arriving in Oxford, however, I had a teenage crisis of conscience and decided that I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life enjoying myself, reading Homer and Virgil. I must do something ‘useful’, so I switched to mathematics. I think I had vague ideas of going into aircraft design. Had I discussed this with anyone, it might have been pointed out that my strengths were not in applied but in pure mathematics (abstract algebra and topology), not a great deal more useful to society than Homeric Greek.
While at Oxford I met and married a fellow student, David Swinfen, who went on to become a professor of history and Vice-Principal of the University of Dundee. Research for a postgraduate degree and some university teaching at Oxford in maths was combined with bringing up our five children – Tanya, Michael, Katrina, Nikki and Richard – on David’s slender academic salary and my even more slender part-time earnings from academic work, translations, journalism and software design. Oh, and for a year I taught A Level maths at Abingdon, a boys’ public school, where I was the only woman on the staff. By the time I finished my MSc we had moved to Scotland and as soon as Richard went to the university play-group at the age of two I went off on another tangent.
From childhood I had wanted to be a writer, but had lost all confidence in myself in my teens. However, the urge had never gone away, so I decided – as a preliminary – to pursue a degree in English Literature. Predictably, I went about this in a circuitous fashion. I was accepted to read for a doctorate at the University of Dundee on the condition that, at the same time, I attend the senior honours year and sit some of the final exams, which I did. At the same time I was teaching for both Dundee and the Open Universities, doing some journalism, and freelancing as a programmer for small business systems. Oh, and looking after the children. When I think about it now, I wonder how I found the time or the energy. (Well, I’m not very house-proud, so that didn’t occupy much time.) As I neared the end of my doctoral thesis, I felt it was a waste not to use my other studies in Eng. Lit., so five weeks after being awarded my PhD, I took the BA Hons in English Literature at London University. Back to front and upside down, I know, but that seems to be the way I go about things. A revised version of my PhD thesis was published as In Defence of Fantasy.
By this point I had become very involved with the Open University, as a tutor and counsellor, chairing numerous committees in Scotland and London, and rushing back and forth to the campus at Milton Keynes. For nine years I served on the governing Council of the OU, which met once a month at the Royal Society, which was rather a treat. The OU work was hugely time-consuming, but so worthwhile. I feel the OU is one of Britain’s great achievements. I am fiercely dedicated to the cause of adult education, to providing opportunities for people at any age to develop their talents, change careers, or simply enrich their lives. As a result I am still doing some teaching in continuing education, and chair the Staff & Student Liaison Committee on Continuing Education at the University of Dundee.
In 1989 I took up a full-time appointment with International Computers Ltd, managing the technical author division for Scotland and the north of England. It was a job which combined the two strands of my academic training, as it involved understanding the computer systems being set up for businesses, utilities, local government and other users, but then producing manuals free of techno-speak, which real people could use easily in doing their real jobs. It demanded a lot of travelling, meetings, and editing, but provided a fascinating insight into other people’s work. However, together with my university teaching it was eating up all my time and it was impossible to do any writing, so after five years I gave it up, determined at last to find time to write. I did also set up and chair Dundee Book Events, a voluntary organisation promoting books and authors to the general public.
My first three novels, all with contemporary settings and an historical layer, The Anniversary, The Travellers, and A Running Tide, were published by Random House, with translations also into Dutch and German. You can find out more about them elsewhere on this website, in the section on Books. There was then something of a hiatus, when my literary agent retired, my editor went on maternity leave and did not return, and my publisher (by then my editor) was ousted in a shake-up at the publishing house.
I have a new agent, Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton, and my latest novel, The Testament of Mariam, marks something of a departure from my previous books. It, too, is described in the Books section of this site. I now live in Broughty Ferry, on the northeast coast of Scotland, with my husband David, a cocker spaniel called Sasha, and two Maine Coon cats, Tirza and Tobias, named after two of the characters in A Running Tide. It looks as though I have finally made up my mind about the career I want to pursue . . .