Officially, I've been a writer of non-fiction for the last twenty years. But when I'm excited by what I'm writing about, what I want to do with my excitement is always to tell a story – and every one of my non-fiction books has borrowed techniques from the novel, and contained sections where I came close to behaving like a novelist. The chapter retelling the story of Captain Scott's last expedition at the end of "I May Be Some Time", for example, or the thirty-page version of the gospel story in "Unapologetic". "Red Plenty" was a kind of documentary novel all the way through. Now, though, I've completed my shy, crabwise crawl towards fiction, and have a book coming out which is an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story. No foot-notes, no invisible scaffolding of facts holding it up: "Golden Hill" (Faber, 2 June 2016) is just a novel. More specifically, it's an eighteenth century novel. It's set in the winter of 1746, in what was then the very small British colonial town of New York; but it's also written like a novel from the eighteenth century. So the story of the charming but unreliable-seeming young Mr Smith, who turns up from London with a document in his pocket that may be a fraud or may be worth a fortune, is as hectically stuffed with event as it would have been if Fielding or Smollett had written it. Eighteenth-century readers expected to get their money's worth, and "Golden Hill" contains (among other things) a mystery, a political intrigue, a love story, a ball, a duel, a high-stakes card game, a trial, a dash of horror, a play-within-a-play, some surprisingly graphic sex and a rooftop chase. As a slow writer, I enjoyed working on something that runs fast. It was intricate fun devising and winding up the book's clockwork. But I hope it's also a story that feels alive, and makes the past feel alive too, while Mr Smith runs for his life, and the snow falls on Manhattan Island. There is a tumblr for it at golden-hill.tumblr.com.
(Okay, biography. I was born in 1964, I'm married with a ten-year-old daughter, and I teach on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)