In secondary school I would sit at the back of the class and write stories, which I got away with because my teachers thought I was taking notes.
I was born Tabitha Sayo Victoria Anne Suzuma to an English mother and a Japanese father and grew up in London as the eldest of five. I went to the French Lycée in South Kensington where all lessons were taught in French. I was a terrible pupil. I hated school and refused to work and did badly in all subjects except English. Despite being right-handed, I would insist on writing with my left. I would always sit at the back of the class and write stories, which I got away with because my teachers thought I was taking notes. In the end of term report the teacher commented that I would make more progress if I didn’t insist on sitting with my feet up on the desk.
When I was fourteen, I just stopped going to school – much to my parents’ anguish. I got a job as an assistant dance teacher and also volunteered at a school for children with cerebral palsy. My mother forced me to take my GCSEs via distance learning and I only turned up to some of the exams. I wanted to be an actress. My mother eventually tricked me into doing A levels (I thought I was signing up for a drama class). The summer after my exams, I wrote my first attempt at a novel. It was called Angels on the Wild Side and my mentor at the time, author KM Peyton, who I’d got to know through writing her endless fanmail, thought it should be published. She sent it to her editor at the time, David Fickling (now of David Fickling Books) who wanted to publish it too but then later decided it was too much of a gamble. I was gutted of course but I was only seventeen, a middle-class girl from a fairly sheltered background, and I had written a novel about teenage gangsterism in the US, a subject I knew nothing about set in a country I had never been to. But that experience basically dictated the rest of my life. I wasn’t going to be an actress after all. I was going to be an author. My mind was set. Deep down I wasn’t even surprised. I had been writing stories since I was six years old. I had filled exercise book upon exercise book with my stories – each one with its own illustrated cover and I was forever handing them out to my friends and family to read. It just had never occurred to me to make it my goal in life since it was something I’d been doing since I could remember. But by the end of that summer, when it turned out I’d done very well in A Levels that everyone – myself included – had expected me to fail, there came the question of university. My fervent wish had always been not to go to. It sounded too much like school. However, initially forced into it by my parents, I ended up going. I didn’t spend much time there but somehow I graduated in French Literature from King’s College London. I studied French at university because I thought it would be easy since I already spoke French. It wasn’t. Two weeks before my finals, I still hadn’t visited the uni library . . .
After that, I taught English as a Foreign Language for a while and suffered through a few office jobs and briefly worked as a translator… Eventually, I decided to become a primary school teacher and worked as a Year 1 teacher at Long Close School in Berkshire. I found that I loved teaching and I was lucky enough to have the best kids in the world in my class. During my last year of classroom teaching I wrote A Note of Madness (and didn’t get much sleep). The following year, I left classroom teaching and began to divide my time between writing and private English tutoring – also teaching at Latymer Upper School in London. This gave me time to write From Where I Stand, followed by A Voice in the Distance, then Forbidden, which is still by far the most controversial and difficult book I have ever written. After recovering from the breakdown that followed writing such a difficult and violently tragic novel, I completed my sixth novel, Hurt, which was published in 2013. I am currently working on my seventh which is taking me awhile due to my health. I suffer from Fibromyalgia – a form of ME which is really quite debilitating, and of course from mental health problems, which have been with me my entire life and greatly influenced all of my work.
For more information on any of my books, please check out my website.