I grew up in the Wiltshire countryside with my brothers, reading stories with my mum and hunting mayfly-nymphs with my dad. Dad was a brilliant and really enthusiastic biology teacher, and as kids, we were caught up in little expeditions to all sorts of wild places: the downs or the beach or my favourite – the forest, where we waded into ponds, searched for rare plants and stared at funghi.
I learned that nature is full of secrets and surprises, if only you know where to look.
Although I’d have probably watched telly all day if I could, I really really liked reading. So did my mum, who read out loud to us every day. The stories I liked best were fairytales, with their dark woods and freshly-baked loaves of bread and struggling children.
My most vivid memory from age 3 or so, is sitting squashed into an armchair with Mum, waiting for my favourite part of my favourite story – Little Red Riding Hood. The bit where it all goes quiet: ‘Now in the very middle of the forest, where it was deepest and darkest, there lived a big, bad Wolf…’
I grew up thinking about big, bad wolves and forests and I was pretty sure one day I would actually live in a wood or in some kind of wilderness somewhere. But I ended up in East London (which to be honest can be quite wild), not far from the great River Thames.
It was this river, with its mysteries and its muddy shores, that gave me the inspiration for my first book, The Executioner’s Daughter and the sequel River Daughter. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find freshly-baked bread, a forest and a wolf in there too.