I was born in West London, close enough to Heathrow Airport that my mother was convinced the chestnut tree in our garden was used as a marker by the planes. I inherited sport-madness from my father and a certain Celtic melancholy from my mother, when she wasn’t railing against pilots. My folks were born in India in the days of Empire and the tales they told of that mystical place were probably the first things to whet my appetite for the dark and mysterious.

When I first saw Roald Dahl's Poison on television in Tales of the Unexpected, I was reminded of my mother's tale of her own close encounter with a deadly krait. As my father died when I was young, spending a large part of my formative years with my mother and sister may account for the strong female characters that inhabit my writing.

After leaving school, where I showed my versatility in a production of Julius Caesar by playing the stretching roles of a cobbler, the fourth citizen and a soldier, I studied English and German at university, spending a year teaching English down near the Black Forest in Germany. The Cold War was still in full stalemate, so trips to East Berlin and Weimar were illuminating. 

It was strange going back to Berlin a couple of years ago. In many ways it symbolises what inspires me to write; the co-existence of different worlds; the darkness of the past living alongside the shadows of the present and the future. It's impossible to wander around Berlin and not feel you inhabit two places at the same time.

Even when I worked in Frankfurt at what was then the world’s biggest chemical company, it was fascinating to be there at a time when the huge 150 year old concern was starting to break apart. The original dyestuffs shed was still there at the centre of the plant, hidden away as the company grew outwards; pipework snaked around offices; two worlds side by side – till an explosion, which I witnessed one morning, killed an employee and hastened the end. 

I live in Berkshire now and walking along the Thames riverbank, the flow of the water and its constant change reminds me of how I love to travel. In particular it makes me think of Venice. That beautiful city resonates with the past and always, just as in Berlin, you have one foot in history.

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