I became a journalist almost by accident. Having learned Russian and been hired after university by Reuters, I was catapulted out of the classical-music life of my family and straight into the adrenaline-charged realm of conflict reporting. While on a trainee assignment in Paris, I fell in with the Cambodian émigré community and ended up reporting in Cambodia myself, a decade after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, as well as covering Cambodian peace talks in places as far apart as Indonesia and Paris. That led to a similar job in Africa, commuting between Angola and Mozambique and writing about death, destruction, diamonds and disease, and later to a posting in a country that stopped being the Soviet Union three months after I arrived. I spent much of the early 1990s in smoky taxis in the Caucasus mountains, covering a series of small post-Soviet conflicts that built up to the war in Chechnya.
My fascination with the cultural and religious differences between Russians and the many peoples once ruled by Moscow grew into a book on the Chechen war (Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya). A second, more light-hearted book followed, about post-Soviet Russia’s illegal caviar trade, once I’d got homesick for London and moved back to writer leaders on foreign affairs for The Times. This book was The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar.
I now lead a more sedate life in North London with my husband and two small sons. Since 2006, I’ve written four novels set in the English past. Midnight in St Petersburg, set in Russia, is the fifth.