I was born at my maternal grandparents’ house in Blackheath, London, in December 1962, the second of four children. My father was an Indian-born Scot with an English accent and my mother was the daughter of an English writer-journalist and a Hungarian Jewish immigrant. When I was five my family moved to Scotland. In 1970 we settled in Broughty Ferry, a suburb of Dundee, where I lived for the next ten years, and where my parents still have their home.  At Grove Academy, the local school, I published stories and poems in a fanzine, The Strawberry Duck, put together with the poet W.N. Herbert - another Grove pupil - Forbes Browne, Mark Hird and others.

From 1980 to 1984 I went to Edinburgh University. During that time my first short story was published by Allan Massie in New Edinburgh Review. My first book publication came in 1982 in the Collins Book of Scottish Short Stories. While at Edinburgh I co-wrote a play, Faculty of Rats, with Duncan McLean, which was staged at the Bedlam Theatre.

In 1984, looking for a way to earn a living to support my writing, I took up the offer of a place at City University’s journalism school in London, and began work on a novel, McFarlane Boils The Sea. After graduating in 1985 I got a job as a reporter on the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, a daily evening newspaper in the English Midlands. I worked there for three years before I moved to be a reporter on The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. Just before I left Northampton the Edinburgh-based Polygon Books bought McFarlane Boils The Sea. It was published in 1989.

While in Edinburgh I helped Duncan McLean - then living in South Queensferry - put together the first two publications from his Clocktower Press, and wrote one of the stories in the debut Clocktower booklet Safe Lurch. In 1990, inspired by reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, I went with the photographer Kane Rutherford on a trip to Kiev, then part of the Soviet Union. Shortly afterwards, the Scotsman sent me to Saudi Arabia to cover the confrontation with Iraq over Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. I was in the Middle East for six weeks and was one of the first reporters into Kuwait City after the Iraqis fled. In August 1991, two days before the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, I handed in my notice at the Scotsman and in November I drove from Edinburgh to Soviet Kiev. Shortly before I set off, the Guardian newspaper told me I could represent them in Ukraine as a freelance.

I lived in Kiev for two and a half years, learning Russian, writing news reports, travelling around the former Soviet Union and finishing work on the short story collection Last Orders, published by Polygon in 1992. In 1994 I moved to Moscow on a full-time contract with The Guardian. I lived in Moscow for five years. In 1995 Polygon published my second novel, Drivetime, and I began writing The People’s Act of Love. In 1996, discouraged by the reception from London literary agents to draft early chapters of People’s Act, I put the project aside and concentrated on short stories, one of which, The Brown Pint of Courage, was published by Canongate Books in the collection Children of Albion Rovers, featuring stories by six Scottish writers, including Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh. In 1998 I became Moscow bureau chief of the Guardian.

In 1999 I put together a new short story collection for Canongate, and moved to London, where I’ve lived ever since. The short story collection was published in 2000 as The Museum of Doubt. When it was finished, encouraged by Natasha Fairweather, who became my agent, I resumed work on The People’s Act of Love. Between 1999 and 2005 I had successive titles at The Guardian - religious affairs editor, science correspondent and features writer - although after the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September 2001 I often reported from overseas. I reported on the post-9/11 effort to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan, on Iraq - during and after the invasion - and on the US prison camp in Guantànamo Bay. In 2004 I was named Foreign Correspondent of the Year at the British press awards. Later that year, Canongate bought The People’s Act of Love, which was published in 2005, and I began writing We Are Now Beginning Our Descent. People’s Act was longlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize and the Scottish Arts Council book of the year prize. In May 2006 I left the Guardian to write full time. Descent was published in 2008. On 7 June the book was awarded the 2008 Le Prince Maurice Prize for literary love stories.

I now live in east London. I am a contributing editor for the London Review of Books. My new novel The Heart Broke In was published in Britain on August 30 and will be published in the US and Canada in October.

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