When I was five years old I decided I wanted to be a novelist and a zoologist.
I have a PhD on chimpanzees (useful as I have a small child) and I’ve had ten books published. Getting there was a lot harder than it sounds since a) I had to pass ‘A’ Level chemistry, b) learn how to spell, and c) write books without any training other than ‘O’ Level English. Along the way I wrote features and columns for national newspapers and magazines about science and the environment, directed science documentaries and I present wildlife programmes for the BBC.
Four of my books are novels and I’ve won some awards for my writing. My fifth novel, Bone by Bone, is a psychological thriller, written under my pen name of Sanjida Kay, and is published by Corvus Books. It went straight into the Amazon kindle best-selling list. It was long listed for the CWA Steel Dagger Award and nominated as one of the best crime and thriller books of 2016.
My second psychological thriller, The Stolen Child, is out on 6 April 2017.
What are your favourite books?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, The Love of Stones by Tobias Hill and The Golden Bowl by Henry James
What drives you to be a writer?
I think writers have to write – even if you haven’t got a publisher, most writers are driven to keep writing. I’m quite disciplined though; I try and work set hours as if I have a proper job. Flaubert once said, ‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’
How do you start writing a novel?
I tend to get an idea for a novel, do a bit of plotting and think about the characters, then I get started on the research. I finish inventing my characters and the plot once I know most of the ‘facts’ and background and then, when the characters are fully formed in my mind I do a chapter breakdown. After that I’m ready to start writing. I aim to do 1,000 words a day.
Do you travel as part of the research for your novels?
I visit the places where my novels are set – so for Angel Bird I went to Northern Ireland; for The Naked Name of Love I travelled to Outer Mongolia and for Sugar Island I visited the real St Simons Island the novel is set on, which is off the coast of Savannah Georgia.
I’ve had some escapades on my travels – when I was writing The Naked Name of Love I lived in a converted potato shed near Cork and once when I was running I got lost! Nothing compared to turning up in Outer Mongolia though with no luggage (it had gone to Russia!). I then got stranded in a town called Moron because the pilot was too drunk to fly the plane. After travelling on horseback across Mongolia, it hurt to sit down for a year!