Where are you from?
Half my family is British, and the other half is from New Zealand. I live in London.
Who are your favorite writers?
I read constantly and could claim scores. A few of my all-time favorites, from history, politics, journalism and fiction, include Jane Austen, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene, Molly Ivins, Jamaica Kincaid, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Thomas Paine, Alexander Pushkin, Thomas Pynchon, Vikram Seth, and P. G. Wodehouse. I like being made to laugh, cry and think.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I constantly go back to the historical works of Edward Gibbon, Lord Macaulay, Lytton Strachey and C. L. R. James, for their wit, humanity, elegance of expression, and precise, snappy judgments. James, particularly, has been an influence on my current book, because I’m writing about the Caribbean. His book The Black Jacobins, on the Haitian revolution, is a classic. Working on the Caribbean has also given me a wonderful excuse to immerse myself in the diverse and incredibly rich literature of the region, from José Martí to Edwidge Danticat. Anyone who wants to be a writer has to start by being a reader.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Travel, movies and TV drama, the great outdoors, and seeing friends as much as possible.
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Go for walks, often.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I just wanted to tell a great story. All writers write at least partially for themselves, but I also want to write for readers. That means telling stories that will entertain and inform. So I ask questions, go off into the archives, and sift through tons of crumbling old papers, faded photos, and clips of newsreel footage, as well as hundreds of books, memoirs, diaries, newspapers and so on. I look for amazing things: details, flashes of personality, occasionally secrets. I love finding these things, and I write books to share them with other people. I enjoy the sense of joining a debate and discussing the issues with readers who have their own opinions. Even if they disagree with me.
Where do you write?