I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be A Writer but at the staid and traditional girls' school I went to, fiction was considered too disturbingly close to telling lies and was not encouraged. We were big on Latin and maths and geography but it was feared that all we wild 1960s teenagers would go to The Bad without firm control over our imaginations. To make up for this I took to my bedroom - where my mother thought I was diligently revising for my A-levels - and wrote stories of unrequited love (so not entirely fiction, come to think of it, teen life being what it was). With great optimism, I sent these off to magazines such as Honey and Petticoat and although they were always rejected, the scrawled notes and compliments slips that came back represented precious contact: the world of published writers really did exist out there, if I could only come up with the inspiration and the talent to break into it.
I was nineteen and working in a deeply boring job as a secretary above a cargo shed at Heathrow airport when I made a start on my first novel (Opening line: "We were not kind to Large Antonia; she was always so cumbersome and red.") but this came to an abrupt end halfway through chapter three when I was fired for putting personal use of the office typewriter way above the airline's Lost Cargo reports.
An English degree then left me with such an overwhelming awe of the thousand years'-worth of the major literary figures we'd studied that for several years after I didn't have the nerve to write anything creative except cheques for cash I didn't have and excuse-notes to my daughters' schools.
During the early years of raising children and, with a music-business husband who was occupied far away from the premises as often as not, I worked from home as a freelance designer and dressmaker for Liberty. I'm sure they thought I had a proper professional workroom but the reality was just me, my overheated sewing machine and two young daughters trampling on the fabrics. All out of frock-inspiration a couple of years on, I took up painting (art, not walls). My first book was published in 1990: a counting book for small children, all of twenty pages of cute illustrations and few words.
It was only when I had to write an essay as part of an application for an art degree that I bought myself a typewriter and rekindled those early writing ambitions. We had a holiday in Cornwall that summer and rented a cottage for four weeks during which it drizzled every single day. I sat by a big window overlooking the Helford river creek, working on a painting of the village while watching the interaction between residents, second-homers and tourists and I clearly remember the moment I thought, 'There's a book in this place...' I hadn't got onto the art course (Thank you Central St. Martins, the "no" was actually a massive favour and I wasn't that good anyway) and I realised that if I was ever going to get a novel written it had to be now or never. So I came home and when my children went back to school in September I started work immediately on "Just For the Summer".
Things I like:
Lupins, Keith Richards, the silky fur on a Burmese cat, Pink Floyd and Puccini, Hendrix and Handel, Pink Gin beach (Grenada), Poldhu Cove (Cornwall, in winter) and Eagle Bay (W. Australia), my white iMac, graveyards, teenagers, the scent of aviation fuel, liquorice comfits, the first really warm day of spring, the Guardian crossword, cashmere, Fridays, my friends and family and the discrepancy between my real age and the inner certainty that I'm coming up to twenty-one.
Things I don't like:
Fish, beige, supermarkets, people who sulk, tiny dogs, December, shoes that hurt, litter, housework, being late, having rubbish eyesight, doing accounts/tax, driving in the dark, boats, losing things, the overused word 'healthy', cliff edges, people who think they're in my books (sorry - you're just not, OK?) and the discrepancy between the inner certainty that I'm coming up to twenty-one and my real age.