What’s the first book you remember reading?
Black Beauty, I suppose. Then a lovely Victorian one that had belonged to my grandmother: Jackanapes, by Juliana Horatia Ewing. It still makes me cry.
Where do you live? And why?
London and a small village in Gloucestershire (Barnsley). London because I love it, I see my friends, and it is marvellous for research; Gloucestershire because I love it and I can’t imagine being away from the country for too long.
What’s the greatest influence on your writing?
Where do you write?
In my study, in either London or Gloucestershire, usually with my Burmese cat beside me.
Typewriter, word processor or pen?
Where were you born and raised?
Born in London but brought up in the country.
How many brothers and sisters do you have? Is anyone else in your family a writer?
I had a brother, who died. My mother wrote regularly for Country Life and my father wrote several books on his subject: riding and horsemanship.
Did you enjoy school? What is your most vivid memory of your school years?
Absolutely loathed it. The bliss when told I could leave.
What educational qualifications do you have?
I had a governess who taught me to sew, spell, write correct English and sit up straight, and at school I passed the usual exams.
Have you had any formal tuition in creative writing?
No, but when I decided to go into journalism I read nothing but Fowler’s for six months until I felt completely confident over such things as ‘that’ and ‘which’ clauses. Read copiously of those whose style I admired such as George Orwell and tried to analyse the reasons why their prose was so good.
Did you always want to be an author? If not, what did you originally want to be and when and why did you change your mind? I was very interested in interior design, in fact, my first three books are on design; but then I realised that what I really adored was the writing part.
What were the first pieces of writing that you produced? e.g. short stories, school magazine etc.
I was lucky enough to get into Fleet Street very quickly and from then on just well, wrote.
What jobs did you have before you started writing?
A few secretarial ones, plus odd things like working in Peter Jones, mucking out people’s flats, etc. Oh, and a year in an aircraft factory.
If your house were burning down, what would you save?
My cats and my jewellery. Plus I would probably grab a fur coat as most fires happen at night and it might well be freezing, also the coat would protect against the terrified cats’ claws.
How did you write your work of non-fiction?
As a biographer, I am a great believer in chronology nothing is more confusing for the reader than darting about backwards or forwards in time. Also, I believe that every life is a story, so should have light and shade, with emphasis on the interesting bits, rather than be the recounting of a series of consecutive facts that are all given equal weight.
What is a typical writing day?
I don’t often have one. My days are wrapped round anything from interviewing, shopping and cooking for friends, keeping in touch with my three children or going to see an exhibition with someone to meeting a deadline, plus fitting in the gym and keeping my cat amused. I’m all for self-discipline but not too keen on routine.
Can you tell us about your new book?
Yes,it’s the stories of the girls and women who went out to India during the time of the Raj and met and married their husbands there.