I was born in Toronto but quickly moved to York, England where my father, a chemist, was doing a postdoctoral fellowship. When we returned to Canada, I spoke with a thick Yorkshire accent. Bucket was BOO-kit. My earliest memory is walking the corridors of some smelly laboratory, stopping in front of a chalkboard, erasing all sorts of numbers and then drawing pictures of Humpty Dumpty. When some irate scientists and my embarrassed father confronted me, nobody could understand what I was saying in reply.
When I was young, I knew little about my roots. But following my youngest daughter’s grade 5 assignment chronicling my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, my researcher father, who took over things, has since discovered that we are descendants of eight founding fathers of Hartford Connecticut, (our branch of the family came to Canada by way of the United States in the 1800s); daughters of the United Confederate; Spanish pirates; Scottish horse thieves and some lord back in the 10th century.
While doing a graduate degree in 1997 at the University of Miami, I worked for the Miami Herald and interned at the New York Times. I landed on my first investigative reporting story by fluke. I had been interviewing a Canadian consul representative about why Canadian and American thanksgivings fell a month and a half apart (most logical explanation – Canada, being colder, harvests their food earlier). I was told that the consulates biggest job in Miami was ensuring that Canadian drug smugglers had proper representation and trials. A series I wrote on female drug mules earned me my first investigative reporting award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
I went on to Maclean's, Canada's weekly news-magazine, shortly after that. There, I began to do both investigative reporting and feature writing. My first investigative story at Maclean's examined the exotic wildlife trade in North America and was nominated for a National Magazine Award.
In 2007, Mariatu Karma, a child victim of the Sierra Leone war, asked me to write her memoir. That book, Bite of the Mango, went on to become an international hit. For several years after that, I became preoccupied with motherhood…dealing with girl and mom bullying (like seriously), taking on the occasional magazine story and commissioned book. However, in 2014, with my children being more independent and smart enough to focus on achieving their goals rather than their peers, I sought out a book that could illustrate life for children in North Korea. Every Falling Star (Abrams/Amulet) tells the story of Sungju Lee, a former North Korean street boy.
Today, my writing appears in Times (London), Glamour, Marie Claire, MS, The Guardian, Elle, Newsweek/Daily Beast. My books have been published in more than 35 countries. Some of my stories have also been made into documentary films.
I consider a sleepy town in Scotland home.