armed terrorists of the Abu Nidal Organisation, who held some 380 people hostage for the day. They collected passports, looking for an American. The brave and resourceful flight attendant, Sunshine, concealed all the Americans with white faces and western names, and convinced the hijacker that there were only Indians and Pakistanis among the US nationals. So he picked a British passport instead – mine. I spent the rest of the day at the front of the plane, waiting for the authorities to refuse a demand. In the end, as the power generator failed and the plane went into darkness, they put me back with the others – before throwing hand grenades and spraying the cabin with automatic fire from their Kalashnikovs. Twenty people were killed and more than a hundred injured, but I jumped off the wing of a jumbo jet and ran away to tell the tale. The book has recently been published in India under the title This is a hijack, after the 2016 Hindi film about PA073, Neerja, was a box office hit.
When I had finished writing The Magistrate’s Son, I realised that another thing the younger me loved about stories was pictures. So Neil the Evil Publisher and I decided to hold a competition to find an illustrator. Seeing other people turning the images in my head into pictures was inspiring and moving. The best four entrants submitted detailed pitches and we chose to work with Johanna. I love the illustrations she has created for this book, and I’m looking forward to her visions of the rest of the series.
I have always loved listening to stories, reading stories, making up stories. For me, the best ones come with a map – a new world to get lost in. I started writing Xessus when I couldn’t find exactly the kind of book I wanted to read to my daughter Zoe – an extended tale set in an imaginary country and time, about people who have to deal with real world problems in a real world way. I’ve got nothing against magic, but I wanted to see how my characters would manage without it. I gave the first few chapters of the first version to Zoe, who came downstairs half an hour later to ask, ‘Is there any more of this?’ And so it began...
Along the way, I took some time out to write What happened to the Hippy Man? This is a true account of the hijacking of Pan Am flight 073 on 5 September 1986 in Karachi, Pakistan. I was returning from a mountaineering expedition held in memory of my brother Pete, who died in northern Pakistan in 1983. I boarded the plane just before it was taken over by