I grew up in Angus, Scotland and from there went south to England for my schooling at Winchester College. At eighteen I took a detour to Peshawar, Pakistan where I taught both Pakistani school children and Afghan refugees and then returned and then a year later went onto university at Oxford where I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
After Oxford, I had a burning desire to be in the film industry and so I applied and received a place at the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Two years - that's what I told myself. I will study there for two years, get some interning experience in Hollywood, and then take my skills back to the UK. Oh, how one's plans so easily change.
Now 17 years later I am still in Los Angeles. I've been a film executive and a producer and worked on many wonderful movies. But about 5 years ago three things began to coincide. First, I increasingly wanted to write - I loved producing but it also frustrated me. Isn’t the cliche that inside every producer is a frustrated writer? Well that was me. But bizarrely because I wasn’t confident in my writing ability I thought I would write a novel not a screenplay. I know, talk about putting the cart before the horse.
If I was going to write a novel then I wanted to write one in a genre I loved - and though it may strange sound for a man to say this, my favorite genre of novel was love stories - not pulp romance novels but the classics - Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Corelli’s Mandolin, Love In The Time of Cholera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Classic romances that have stood the test of time. Now I am not pretending what I have written is even close but it is the genre I perhaps naively chose.
The question was what and that is when I came back to my time in Pakistan - what if I told a simple story - a love story - set in 1991 between an American aid worker and a young female Afghan refugee. What I loved about the idea was that in all great romances there has to be something standing in the way of your couple getting together - in Romeo and Juliet it’s that Capulets and Montagues are sworn enemies, in Corelli’s Mandolin it’s that Corelli is an invader and Peligia part of the population his troops have conquered, I think one of the issues of writing a great romance nowadays is that there are so few barriers to love - but there are plenty when your characters are a Muslim woman and an American man especially if they live in one of the most fundamentalist parts of the world.
Writing the novel was perversely one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done - it’s a bit like aid work actually. And what came out of it were these two great characters - Charlie and Noor - who I fell in love with and by the end of the process felt like the closest of friends. I do so hope you love them too.