PLACE & DATE OF BIRTH:Adelaide, Australia, 5 June 1973. My parents, who are English, moved back to England when I was five and I grew up in the north-west.
FAVOURITE BOOK:If I really had to choose just one, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. But my favourite children’s book was probably The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.
FAVOURITE SONG:‘Son of a Preacher Man’ – Aretha Franklin. Because it makes me smile and want to get up and dance. And because it reminds me of my local club when I lived in Cairo – it was always the last song of the night.
MOST TREASURED POSSESSION:I move around quite a lot but, wherever I go, a bear that I’ve had most of my life comes with me. He’s pot-bellied and a little smelly and represents home.
When did you start writing?I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. When I left university, I became a journalist and I’ve been writing non-fiction for a living ever since. Mostly, I write about science. But I’ve also written some travel articles, and the section on martial arts films for the Rough Guide to Cult Movies, also published by Penguin.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?From research – keeping up with general news and reading some of the best science/technology news websites. Major conferences and journals are often excellent sources of information about interesting work. But some journals are more essential than others. Applied Clay Science I usually skip.
Can you give your top 3 tips to becoming a successful author1. Write about what excites you
2. Read as much as you can
What is your favourite memory?Any of the many midnight feasts I shared with my sister in the back of our parents’ succession of old cars. Every summer we’d set off on six-week long driving holidays anywhere and everywhere in Europe. I was being taken to parts of the world I’d never seen before and was with the people I loved most in it. Staying awake to eat sweets and biscuits wrapped in toilet paper just added to the excitement. But I’ve also done a lot of travelling as an adult, and one of my favourite memories from those trips is sitting at night in a remote part of a wildlife sanctuary in southern India, separated from a herd of elephants at a waterhole by a narrow ditch, the only light from fireflies and the stars. Riding a police motorbike in Central Park, New York, is another favourite.
What is your favourite place in the world and why?Cairo. For the mummies and gold in the Egyptian Museum, the scent of exhaust and scorching meat, the call to prayer at dawn, log flumes in the desert, neon-coloured ice creams, belly-dancing clubs, and the heat. I love cities and Cairo seems to be about as intense – and friendly – as they come.
What are your hobbies?Right now, I’m in Sydney, Australia, and I spend my spare time at the beach, riding horses, having barbecues and trying to tempt cats from across the road through my window. In London, I like to socialise with friends and wander around the streets and the British Museum.
If you hadn’t been a writer what do you think you would have been?If journalism and other sorts of writing really hadn’t worked out, I might have gone back to university and tried to become a researcher in psychology, neuroscience or zoology.