First, the short version:
I am a journalist and author who, as of September 2015, became the chief theatre critic of The Times, having been the parliamentary sketchwriter for the previous 12 years. It’s a logical move – politics is, as they say, just show biz for ugly people. I also write interviews and feature articles for the newspaper and its Saturday magazine. I have published four books, the latest one in September 2015, All In This Together, looks back at my sketches over the coalition years, rounding out the other two political books. My non-political book is called Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die, which received outstanding reviews. I appear regularly at literary festivals and other events, talking about theatre/politics/death (and sometimes, because it just makes sense, theatrical political deaths). I also have written occasional pieces for magazines such as Vogue.
Then there is the longer version:
I am now the chief theatre critic for The Times which is, like being sketchwriting, a very British job and yet it is impossible to hide the fact that I am American, mainly because all attempts to erase my accent have failed. So the first thing most people want to know is when I came to “this country” and why. I originally came in 1979 to do a London semester on the history of the British press, which provided the finale to my BA in journalism from the University of Oregon. I returned in 1984, for good, and since then have worked as a journalist. The key thing about these dates is that it means that I was here for the Winter of Discontent and the miner’s strike, two seminal events in modern British political history.
I have been at the Times since 1998, working first as a feature writer, and have won and been shortlisted for many awards. I have been the Times sketchwriter for 12 years and you can read a pick and mix selection of my sketches here, including a few from the 2015 and the 2010 and 2005 campaign trails.
As a feature writer, my subjects are extremely varied. I am sure that I have interviewed J.K. Rowling more than any other person on the planet, from just after her first book in 1998 (read here) and then twice again in 2000 and 2001. Other feature articles that I am proud of include stories on Rwanda, asylum seekers and everyday life in Iraq (read here). Indeed, in 2003, I returned from my stint in Basra and, the very next week, began my new job of sketching parliament. My very first day was Defence Questions in which Geoff “Buff” Hoon (as he was known) told us all about Basra. I couldn’t help but notice that his answers bore almost no resemblance to what was going on there. Mr Hoon, and subsequent Defence Secretaries, including a more recent occupant, Philip Hammond, continue to be favourite sketch material. (Read a sketch of Mr Hammond here.) I also do the occasional magazine interview for The Times, such as this one with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, during which quite a few glasses of red wine were drunk. (Read here).
My non-political book Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die involved spending a huge amount of time in graveyards or “graving” as I like to call it. I do not think this is macabre in the least as I find them oasis of calm, not to mention repositories of history, whimsy, fashion and folklore. I went all over Britain to get the right mix of people, places, monuments and accomplishments. As part of all of that I have developed a theory as to why so many people end up buried in the wrong place, which I share regularly at literary festival events.
My other books are themed collections of my sketches over three stellar political eras, the expenses scandal, the start of the coalition and the end of it (like all political careers, it didn’t end well). The most recent, All In This Together: My Years as a Political Stalker, includes sketches from the entire five years of the coalition. When I was putting it together, I became fascinating how you can see the seeds of destruction were there from the very start. Indeed, you can see them being sown. My other collections are: Annus Horribilis: The Worst Year in British Politics, an essential primer for the expenses scandal of 2009, and Dave and Nick: The Year of the Honeymoon.
I was born in Iowa (as Bill Bryson says, someone had to be) and grew up in Oregon on the West Coast of America. I have worked both in local and national papers in the States and here. Notably, I was the Foreign Editor of The Observer for five years until 1995 and have worked as a feature writer for The Independent, as well as a freelance. In America, I have worked for papers in Oregon, Massachusetts, New York and Idaho.
I have two children and live with my husband in Kent and in Derbyshire where my interests include gardening, walking and having fun.