Like Robin Ballantyne, my protagonist, I was a journalist for many years. I started out in the BBC and later became a print journalist, working as a foreign correspondent in China and then freelancing in Hong Kong. In the mid-nineties I tried writing a mystery set in China, but it was never published.
In 1997, I returned with my husband and baby son to live in Britain for the first time in nearly a decade. By this time I was very pregnant with my second child - there are only nineteen months between them - and so I arrived in London, and gave birth a couple of months later. I found it tough being at home with two children under two in a city that was, to me, like a foreign country. My friends and family were now in the same country and even in the same city, but not very close at hand. It was in this situation that I started to write Falling Off Air, and my starting point was to think, while I struggled, if it's this hard, how on earth do single mothers cope? And Robin Ballantyne was born.
The street where I lived was not unlike the street where Robin Ballantyne lives in Falling Off Air. And of course she is a journalist, because journalism is what I knew, and because journalists investigate in the same way that detectives do.
I started to work on freelance projects, including night shifts on the foreign news desk at a national newspaper in England. Then I had a third baby. As I started to work, so I wrote in Robin's challenges juggling childcare with work. I had it much easier than Robin Ballantyne, but it was great to be able to throw all these terrible situations at my fictional heroine and have her soldier on instead of collapsing in a heap.
I loved writing about Robin Ballantyne, a single mother who's lost faith in love and is trying to kick-start her career. I wanted to write about how people's professional and domestic lives are intertwined, in Robin's case with devastating results. When a woman dies at Robin's feet and chilling events ensue, Robin investigates, and exposes shocking events from the past. She also finds an unlikely lover. We are living in Beijing again now. It's a very different place than the sleepy town I came to for the first time twelve years ago when I was a student. China offers the perfect ingredients for a mystery novel: sleaze, crime, injustice, a corrupt legal system, greedy corporations, sweatshops, tycoons and beggars. It is a country constantly re-inventing itself and a population that's desperately trying to keep up. When I've finished writing the sequel to Falling Off Air, I want to write a crime novel set in Beijing.