Stephen Taylor was born in South Africa and trained as a journalist before making his home in Britain at the age of 21. Overland journeys through Asia, the Middle East and North Africa over four years opened doors to new worlds and led to his joining The Times in 1978. Africa retained a hold, however, and on the independence of Zimbabwe he based himself in Harare as a foreign correspondent. Reporting for The Times, The Observer and The Economist, he covered the so-called frontline states challenging the apartheid government. Other bases followed, in South-East Asia and Australia, before he returned to Britain in 1987.

Africa provided the setting for his first three books, a biography, a history and a travel narrative respectively. The fourth, a shipwreck epic set on the coast of South Africa entitled The Caliban Shore, won plaudits across the English-reading world and introduced him to a new subject, seafaring in the great age of sail. "One line of research often turns the page to another," he says. "That's the way stories emerge."

His next book, Storm and Conquest, earned similar acclaim and with it a reputation as a popular maritime historian whose research and storytelling skills were noted by academics such as N.A.M. Rodger, Roger Knight and Andrew Lambert as well as Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger. Another page, too, had been turned, leading to discovery of Edward Pellew's private papers. Commander, The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain, published in 2012, drew an explicit connection between a hero already associated with maritime fiction (in the Hornblower novels) and Patrick O'Brian's creation, Jack Aubrey.

For years, however, Stephen had felt pursued by a quite different subject – a woman with connections to his own African past, and Cape Town where he was born. His first female biographical subject is Lady Anne Barnard, a woman who lived at the centre of Georgian society, travelled intrepidly – to France during the Revolution as well as the Cape of Good Hope – and all the while recorded her adventures in memoirs never published but which reveal her as one of the unheralded chroniclers of the age. Defiance – The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard, is the first biography based on these papers and will be published in November.

Stephen Taylor's other main interest is music. He has played the piano poorly but doggedly for almost forty years and sings in a choir. He is married with two children and a grandson.

Stephen Taylor