I was born in Venezuela and moved around the world with my parents and two brothers before settling in London. After school in Hampton, I spent a year working at the Old Vic Theatre before reading English at St Anne’s College, Oxford.
I then joined the BBC as a production trainee, learning to direct and produce all kinds of TV programmes from drama to current affairs. But after a few years, I succumbed to a hankering for Fleet Street and moved to The Sunday Times. I also broadcast on BBC Radio 4, where I had my own series. I spent many exhilarating years at The Daily Telegraph as media correspondent, but my single most exciting moment in that time was getting a publishing contract for my first novel.
In particular I have a passion for historical fiction and love the research that involves. The first in the Clara Vine series, Black Roses, became a number One Kindle Bestseller. In the UK the series is published by Simon & Schuster. Outside Britain, my novels have been translated into French, German, Greek, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish and Italian. In France the series is published by J.C Lattes and in Greece by Kedros. In the US and Canada the series is published by Random House. The TV rights have been optioned by Hillbilly Films who are producing the pilot for an eight part series.
The Words I Never Wrote is published in the US by Ballantine.
I have also written two alternative history novels under the pen name C.J. Carey, Widowland and Queen High (published in the US by Sourcebooks as The American Queen). I chose that pseudonym because it’s a reversal of my own initials, coupled with my mother’s maiden name. In the UK, the novels are published by Quercus and in France by J C Lattès.
As well as writing books I now freelance as a journalist, writing regularly for numerous British magazines and newspapers, and also appear as a broadcaster on Radio 4 and Sky. I have been a guest reader at the Arvon Foundation and sat on the broadcasting committee of the Society of Authors. I’m a patron of the Wimbledon Bookfest and live in London with whichever of my three children happens to be around.
I also have an active Facebook page where I love to interact with readers. Do please follow me on GOODREADS and add the Clara Vine novels, The Words I Never Wrote, Widowland and Queen High to your ‘Want To Read’ list. Get in touch. It’s great to talk!
For some people, the only thing that works is a strict routine, and that definitely applies to me. I get to my office (a commute that consists of two flights of stairs) at about eight o’clock and run through emails, admin, Twitter and every possible diversionary activity before beginning to write. I usually read over the previous day’s work to get in the swing of it, and I continue writing, fuelled by alternate coffee and tea, until 12.30, with a snoring dachshund at my feet. If it’s going well, I come back and continue reading and writing until four o’clock, but the afternoon can be a moveable feast. Whatever happens, I break off then for a run. I love running, and it definitely shakes off the tensions of sitting for so long.
Real people and historical events are an essential element in my novels, but despite the fact that I’m writing fiction, I’m very aware of the need to respect historical authenticity. I think if people are going to take a picture of a certain time from your writing then it’s incumbent on you not to mess around with dates and times. I tend to think of historical events as the furniture and the novelist should never move the furniture, but is permitted to rummage around down the back of the sofa.
There’s something about research that people find slightly daunting, but to me, research is glorious! It usually involves visiting the place I’m writing about so that I can walk in my characters’ shoes, and in recent years that has been Berlin and Munich, both cities which I love in different ways. Research always involves a lot of reading around the subject, but then I have always been fascinated by the 1930s, both in fiction and non-fiction. To me that decade was a dramatically important one, a time when the world wavered between two ideologies, communism and fascism, and teetered on the brink of war. It was a time when people had to decide what they stood for, and often found themselves called to action in defence of their principles. I map out the plot of the novel before I start, and then I aim to write a first draft. After that I go back and write a second, and then show the manuscript to my agent. But the book can go through numerous drafts before agents and editors are satisfied, and I think that’s good. Getting a fresh eye on the process can be valuable, and sometimes other people can see problems or strengths that you can’t.
The minute I get to my desk in the morning, with a whole day of possibility ahead. I’m definitely a lark rather than an owl.
Apart from hearing that my first novel was to be published (sitting at my desk at the Daily Telegraph) it would be the day I went walking with my uncle through Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and we came unexpectedly across the village of Adlestrop, made famous by the Edward Thomas poem. It felt like serendipity because we had been talking about poetry and the First World War. Someone had framed the poem by a bench, and we stood and read it. Edward Thomas could have been standing right beside us. There was a strange, almost eerie, feeling of transcendence, of literature and life merging together.
From the age of fifteen I did, but if I hadn’t done that, I would have liked to go into politics.
Here I am talking on BBC’s Woman’s Hour about Black Roses
On sitting at my desk watching crows
Why I write about the Nazi wives
The Secrets of Hitler's Bride Schools
The book club I'd love to meet for cocktails