HISTORIAN • WRITER
I was born in Bedfordshire in England. My mother had opted for the tranquility of a home-birth under the care of my grandmother, an experienced maternity nurse. As it turned out, it was a miracle that any of us survived. Concerned that my mother might be cold, my grandmother lit a paraffin heater, then in the excitement she knocked it over and set fire to the bedroom. Somehow we all escaped and my grandmother managed to avoid further incident long enough to live to the great age of 97.
My childhood was spent battling with my brother. All the glorious advantages with which our parents presented us – playrooms, swimming pools, agreeable gardens – we simply exploited as new and exciting war zones, oblivious of our good fortune. To keep us apart, our exasperated parents presented us each with pencil and paper and we were banished to our bedrooms. Only an intercom connected us via a wire strung between the windows – we even had separate staircases. With the opportunities for physical violence thus curtailed, my brother drew pictures and I wrote stories. We have never stopped. I worked for 20 years in publishing, and my brother’s exquisite painting graces the cover of my book The Water Gypsy: how a Thames fishergirl became a viscountess.
I read history at the University of Oxford under Dr Rowena E Archer. I made so many good friends at Oxford that, after 25 years as a Kent girl, I moved in 2010 to rural West Oxfordshire. I live in a converted piggery and I love it.