My first piece of journalism was published in the university magazine. I had been in the USA during the summer holidays and inadvertently been caught up in the Chicago riots of 1968. It made for an exciting eyewitness account. That crystallised my desire to make my living by writing. For my 21st birthday, I wanted a typewriter.

I worked as a journalist for many years. Life on Death Row came out of that. I interviewed the British lawyer and human rights campaigner Clive Stafford Smith. Why don’t you write a book about your work, I asked him. I haven’t got the time, he told me. You do it. So I did.

In the 1990s I left journalism to return to university and study for a PhD at UCL. My subject was the Cold War. I had enjoyed journalism but hankered to look into things more deeply than newspaper schedules allowed. In particular I wanted to find out, if possible, what had really been going in East Germany when I had been there in the 1960s. Communing with the Enemy was based on my thesis. The Cold War: A Beginner’s Guide combined my skills as a journalist and a historian – a short accessible book aimed at the general reader. Stepping Off the Map was published 50 years after the Coventry Cathedral Dresden project had taken place – a record of a small but important piece of Cold War history.

Wordsmith: The Gift of a Soul is a tribute to my daughter Megan Young who died of cancer in 2010 aged 32. She was an equine veterinary surgeon and a poet, among other things. This is the book that will always be closest to my heart.