Colour (in the US, Color) was my first book, published in 2002. The first journey, to Chile, was made in 1999 when I was helping friends with a documentary on Pablo Neruda and I just happened to bump, in the metro, into the man whose father had helped bring cochineal to Chile from Peru. This isn’t what started the book (that happened when I was eight, in a cathedral in France), but it is the coincidence that kicked me to actually write it rather than talk about it. It involved 17 journeys to places like Afghanistan, Iran and Mexico, as well as thousands of hours in libraries around the world. My favourite one in memory is the Calcutta library with the fans lazily drifting above, and the smell of old paper and warm grass. My favourite one in reality is the British Library. My husband says he is glad they close it at night, otherwise I would live there.
Jewels was my second book. A better book, technically, I think, although with a subject matter that popped it straight into the mineral shelves of the bookshops which – if anyone is thinking of doing something similar – is not the most ideal for sales! I went to 14 countries, including: Cleopatra’s (almost) lost emerald mines in the middle of Egypt’s desert; Burma’s ruby mines; the biggest amber mining town in Russia, which once was a gulag; the Australian outback for opals… even as I type this I’m caught up in nostalgia for those journeys, and the people I met.
The third book – and if somebody had a bet with me 10 years ago that this would be the title of my third book, I’d have lost – was called Faith in Conservation. I wrote it with my husband, Martin Palmer, for his charity where I have also been working for several years, and it was published by the World Bank. The first five chapters are some of his stories, and some of my own (e.g. the bedbugs were mine). The second half is contributed by major religious scholars about what their 11 faiths say about the environment. You can buy it from amazon, or you can download the pdf free from the World Bank though it’s 13MB and has a quite extraordinarily horrid photocopy of the cover at the beginning, so be warned.