After travelling in South America I took a degree in Philosophy and Spanish, began writing short stories and trained as a barrister. I would later specialise in child protection law, but initially I was a criminal defence lawyer.
Feeling restless after only three years, in 1989 I spent a sabbatical in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where I studied Arabic and carried out human rights research for a small NGO. Within a few months I had acquired a lasting fascination with the complexities and contradictions of the Middle East and a desire to become fluent in Arabic. The research was published as Making Women Talk: the Interrogation of Palestinian Women Prisoners in 1992, by the advocacy group Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.
Back at the bar in London, I began to represent parents, children and local authorities in public law care proceedings. This was painful work and in 1992 I left London to work part time in the child protection team of a local authority legal department, hoping to get time to write.
In 1993 I took another break, travelling to northern Iraq, where my time was spent drinking tea with Iraqi Kurds and listening to their traumatic stories. The natural beauty of Kurdistan and the raw warmth of its battered people touched me deeply. My book Sweet Tea with Cardamom: a Journey through Iraqi Kurdistan was published by Pandora/Harper Collins in 1997.
From 1995 to 1997 I was able to combine working part time as a child protection lawyer with taking a Masters in Middle East Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, pursuing my interests in Middle East history and politics and Arabic language. I made my first visit to Lebanon in 1999. The country had intrigued me for many years, due to its sectarian complexity, its history of recent bloodshed and its significance in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While walking in the gorges of northern Mount Lebanon, I formulated the questions which would be at the heart of The Curtain Maker of Beirut: Conversations with the Lebanese; but the book’s gestation was long and slow.
By the time The Curtain Maker came out in 2006, published by Berkshire Academic Press, I was a mother. My son and I both love the outdoors and we started to explore the French Pyrenees while he was at primary school, walking with donkeys and camping. My first novel, Donkey Business: a Pyrenean Adventure of the Heart (as yet unpublished) came out of these journeys.
In 2015-16, the war in Syria and the arrival of large numbers of refugees in Europe brought my attention back to the Middle East. In the spring of 2016 I revived my Arabic and spent time as a volunteer in a refugee camp in northern Greece. The experiences I had there inspired me to write Hara Hotel: A Tale of Syrian Refugees in Greece, in which I interweave a chronicle of everyday life in the camp with the personal story of one refugee, and my attempt to understand the political and historic factors driving the war. Hara Hotel was published by Verso in 2018.
During the pandemic I researched and began a memoir about my mother, Sheila Denning, who was a portrait painter. The working title is Sheila: Portrait of an Unknown Artist and the memoir remains a work in progress.