Although I’m American by birth, I’ve lived with my family in Scotland for over fifteen years. My second child was born here and I wrote all but one of my novels here. Perth is the place that I call home. I became a British citizen in a ceremony in the Perth City Chambers in 2016.
I started life in New York City in 1964. My father worked for the New York City Board of Education and was sent first to Manchester (England) and then to Kingston (Jamaica) to do teacher training in early childhood education. While we lived in Jamaica my grandmother used to send me a book every month, and that was my introduction to children’s literature. I decided at the age of 7 that I wanted to write books like these when I grew up.
We moved back to the United States when I was 9 years old and I lived in Pennsylvania until I went to university. After a work-study year back in England I embarked on a seven year PhD in Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I loved Philadelphia - it was there that I learned to ring church bells in the English style known as ‘change ringing’, and where I met my English husband Tim at a bell ringers' dinner-dance. We were married in 1996 and moved to Scotland in 2000
As well as bell ringing, Tim and I share another unusual interest - flying. Tim got his private pilot's license in 1993 and I got mine ten years later. Together we’ve flown in the U.S. from Kalamazoo to New Hampshire; in Kenya we have toured from Nairobi to Malindi, on the coast, and also all over southern England. Although I hold licenses that allow me to fly in most European countries and in North America, as a pilot I am still very much a ‘tyro’ - a beginner! Most of my solo flight has been in eastern Scotland. My interest in flying is what sparked the idea for three of my novels.
About writer's work
I write about my obsessions. When I wrote Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire I was obsessed with World War II, spies and flying. Both those novels feature heroines who are pilots with the Air Transport Auxiliary. I’ve written quite a few short stories about flying, too.
My most recent novel, The Pearl Thief, is a mystery which takes place in Perthshire in 1938. I’ve grown to love Perthshire and its landscape and the secrets of its ancient past, so all that comes into play in this book. I volunteered to help out on archaeological digs based at the Iron Age hillforts on Moredun Top, near Perth, in 2016 and 2017, and a little bit of that experience helped to give background to the story.
My first five novels are all set in ancient civilizations of the sixth century, in Britain, Ethiopia, and South Arabia. The starting point for these stories is King Arthur, another of my obsessions, but one which isn’t so easy to connect to the twentieth century! However, the spying theme that’s so obvious in Code Name Verity is also present in three of my Arthurian books as well.
Black Dove, White Raven (2015), combines a few of my interests. It’s set in Ethiopia in 1935, during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The hero and heroine of the story are an adoptive brother and sister, Teo and Em, one black and one white. Their American mother brings them to Ethiopia to try to escape the prejudices of life in the USA in the 1930s. They are a quirky family of pilots and artists and become swept up in the war that engulfs their adoptive country.
My books almost always feature a main character who has to learn to feel at home in a foreign country - probably because I am an American in Scotland! The Pearl Thief is the first novel I have written in which the action takes place in the heroine’s home territory. It’s set in Scotland, so I guess that’s really where I feel most at home now.
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Current events and projects
I’ve done recent events on themes ranging from the anniversary of D-Day to poetry workshops.
I have done readings, workshops and presentations for all age levels from Primary 1 to adult, covering topics from manuscript submission to identifying aircraft parts! I’ve spoken to small audiences of only 4 adults and I’ve spoken to large audiences of 300 teens, and I will happily tailor the presentation to fit the group. Informal classroom presentations to groups of 20-30 are probably what I enjoy the most.
I love to talk about books - not just my own but other people’s too. I have run writing workshops for primary school, teens and adults but I also like talking about my other interests: flying, tower bell ringing, and travel. I’ve done presentations on my trip to Ethiopia, writing about flying, the Holocaust and the World War II women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück, and how non-fiction research gets worked into a fiction novel. Since writing Code Name Verity I’ve also become passionately interested in women pilots throughout history, and the role of women in World War II.
Short Stories in Anthologies:
“The Colour of the Sky.” In Petticoats & Pistols, edited by Jessica Spotswood. Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2016. Language: English. Age Group: 12 and up. Synopsis: A young girl witnesses the death of Bessie Coleman, the world’s first female black aviator, in Florida in 1926.
“Something Worth Doing.” In Firebirds Soaring, edited by Sharyn November. ISBN 9780142416921. Publisher: Firebird Books, 2009. Language: English. Age Group: 12 and up. Synopsis: A girl disguises herself as her dead brother and becomes a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain.
“Always the Same Story.” In The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. ISBN 9780670061945. Publisher: Viking, 2007. Language: English. Age Group: 12 and up. Synopsis: The son of a circus owner is kidnapped by gangsters and uses his knowledge of steam trains in order to make a getaway.
“Chain of Events.” In Rush Hour: Reckless, edited by Michael Cart. ISBN 9780385730341. Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2006. Language: English. Age Group: 12 and up. Synopsis: On vacation in Scotland, a young American girl’s flight as a passenger in a small plane nearly ends in disaster, until she takes over the decision making.
“Chasing the Wind.” In Firebirds, edited by Sharyn November. ISBN 9780142403204. Publisher: Firebird Books, 2003. Language: English. Age Group: 12 and up. The story of a high school student’s flight across Kenya in 1952.