In 1982, just after I turned 20, I went to live in Leningrad for a year. I was cold and hungry most of the time, and most of my Russian friends were miserable or scared or both. The winter was dark and long, and the regime was oppressive. It was by far the happiest year of my life.
That year, and subsequent years spent at Moscow University as a postgrad, provided much of the core material for Devil's Acre. But I wasn' t then a writer, not yet. After returning to Britain I got a job as a feature writer on The Sunday Times Magazine, and in 1991 I was sent back to Moscow as the newspaper's Russian Affairs correspondent. I covered the slapstick Yeltsin years, and was present at the shelling of the Russian parliament building in 1993 – the moment when Russia's last best hope of a democratic future went up in smoke.
I have written many works of non-fiction, including a history of the Battle of Stalingrad based on eyewitness accounts. I am now, among other things, a travel writer, and I often go back to Russia on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller and other magazines. Devil's Acre is my first novel, and my proudest achievement.