I was born in Leicester in 1971 and grew up in a multicultural, multi-racial community close to the city centre. As a child I dreamt about three things – playing football for Liverpool FC, being Bob Marley and becoming a writer. At the age of eleven I read the book that would inspire me to write. It was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. Other authors had inspired me to write for fun (Roald Dahl in particular) but it was Sue Townsend who became my true role model. From that point writing became an important hobby and I practiced almost every day. I read countless books, often copying an author’s style in order to find my own.
In 1991, after being schooled at Judgemeadow Community College and QE II Sixth Form, I moved to London to attend Southbank University. I graduated in 1994 with a degree in Politics. For the next two years I moved from one awful job to another until personal circumstances (and a lack of money) forced my return to Leicester. Over the next few years I worked for a large supermarket, sold random things over the phone, and eventually settled as the manager of a bar, and then assistant manager of a nightclub. It was during this latter period that I finished my first novel, (un)arranged marriage.
Eventually I showed parts of my novel to Jennifer Luithlen, an agent based in Leicester, and she agreed to take me on. The novel, having been edited, was then shown to Transworld (now Penguin Random House). I was cleaning dusty shelves when I got the call that I’d been waiting for. The publisher loved the story and wanted to offer me a contract. For the next six months I spent every spare hour trying to get the story finished, often writing during the very early hours of the morning. The novel was published in 2001 to great acclaim and I embarked on the career I had dreamt of as a child.
The Crew, Dream On, and then Rani & Sukh followed the first novel – both well received and widely read. I had also started to receive requests for school visits, and now spend a large part of the year doing events, promotions and creative writing classes – which I love. I have been shortlisted for, and won, many different awards.
I received an honorary doctorate from De Montfort University in 2014 – something of which I’m very proud, and I continue to write stories about unheard voices both current and from British and world history. I am also ambassador for Listening Books, The Reading Agency and others, and work alongside Empathy Lab UK and many other projects that dovetail with young readers and their lives.
I live in Leicestershire with my two daughters. As well as being huge reggae music and Liverpool FC fan, I also love to cook, walk, travel and, of course, read.