I’m originally from south-west England but have lived abroad for many years. I first came to Alaska in 1991. After time away in Bangkok and Minneapolis, I moved back in 2004 to teach in the MFA programme. Fairbanks is a place dear to my heart—I met my husband here (Ian Cameron Esslemont—he’s a writer of fantasy novels) and have settled back in, this time with our three sons. I have master’s degrees in creative writing from the University of East Anglia (1989) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (1994), plus a doctorate in literature from the University of Minnesota (2004).
I teach graduate writing courses (Forms of Fiction, Writers’ Workshop) plus undergraduate courses including creative writing, world literature, and women’s literature. Last year at my students’ request, I put together an intermediate-level workshop in sci-fi and fantasy writing, and it was a great success.
My short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in such venues as BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines , BLIP Magazine, Camera Obscura and Redivider . I have two published novels:
- Cold Country (Duckworth, 2003) is set en route to and in Fairbanks. I wrote it in the dripping heat of Bangkok where I taught for four years—it was my homage to a place I didn’t think I’d ever be able to return to. It is also my take on the sort of strange friendships that parents force on their children. In the novel, Sandra’s mum and step-dad have not only pushed her into a friendship with a relative called Fleur, they have revived the friendship when it had petered out. Unfortunately for Sandra, this means that she is roped into driving Fleur home from Seattle to Fairbanks, and Fleur—supposedly upright and honest—has been less than truthful. She doesn’t have the money to fly Sandra home again, stranding her in a place she hates from the moment she sets foot in it.
- The Dark Lantern (Crown, 2008; Three Rivers Press, 2009). My dissertation work was on servants in nineteenth-century British crime fiction, and what wonderful material I found: the awful situation of servants (being required to do dirty work, then being blamed for being dirty), stories about maids falling from the windows they were cleaning onto the spiked railings beneath. Victorian households were microcosms of what I came to call “domestic colonization”—an attempt to civilize the uncivilisable people of the lower social orders by bringing them into the home to train them up . . . and paying them badly for the privilege! If ever there was a misguided and hypocritical mission, certainly the employment of servants to “improve” them is it. The Dark Lantern is my exploration of this complicated and claustrophobic world. It’s also a nod to the crime-ridden sensation novels of the Victorian era, but with an eye not just on the middle class but on the lower-class people who served them. Unlike in most Victorian fiction where servants are either good or bad (and punished accordingly), in The Dark Lantern the servants are just as complicated as their employers.