Probably being set on fire (accidentally) while sleeping in a tent in the Arctic circle. I was reporting on NATO manoeuvres in northern Norway and living with the soldiers in minus 20 degree blizzard conditions. A lamp exploded, spraying burning oil over me and the soldier who was working on it. I dived into a snow drift to put the blaze out. He was more badly burned, but was airlifted out and survived. It was the first time I realised it was actually possible to die while working. If the oil had splashed a different way, I might not be here now.
As an author, you only have yourself to answer to, whereas when you’re a journalist you’re following the direction of various strata of editors. That’s definitely a plus. Journalism is certainly more short, sharp shocks – quick deadlines, constantly moving on to something new. Writing novels is a long haul and you have to make sure you have strategies for keeping your focus and your drive. Writing fiction is a solitary job and you have to be disciplined and a self-starter. Journalism is very social, with lots of camaraderie – that’s quite a big, and tough, adjustment to make.
What do you think you would be doing if you didn’t write for a living?
It’s hard to really answer that as I’ve always earned a living writing in one form or another, since I left university. I’d probably be doing something in the music industry as that’s a big love of mine. I once ran an indie record company and managed bands, which I found hugely stimulating.
The last book I read was Mysteries by the philosopher Colin Wilson. It was an eye-opening examination of what is often called paranormal experience, but filtered through psychology and science. Highly recommended.
Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?
Probably Mysteries as there’s so much in it that altered the way I think about the world. But other than that, I’d recommend House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski which shows how much it’s possible to break form and structure yet still achieve an emotional result. Or Little, Big by John Crowley which is possibly my favourite book of all time, a whimsical, magical examination of family, history, love, meaning… so many things.