My Secret Life: Philippa Gregory, Author, age 54

The house I grew up in... was a tall Victorian town house in Bristol. There were very big rooms, which were under-furnished and always cold.

When I was a child I wanted to be... a vet. I'd come home with "lost" kittens and dogs. My mother would tell me to put them back. I'd take them to Bristol Zoo for treatment, so often that the staff knew me by name.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was when I had my first seminar with my history professor at the University of Sussex. I realised that history would answer all the questions I had spent my life asking. It was an extraordinary moment.

My greatest inspiration... are those women who have educated themselves despite the society they live in: the suffragettes, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot.

My real-life villain... there's no one particular person, but those who lie about what they then persuade us to do, for example: the Blair government's lies that took us into Iraq. This was something that couldn't have been more important and it should have been publicly debated.

If I could change one thing about myself... I'd be less highly strung. I find my sensibility quite high maintenance.

At night I dream of... I have a fabulous dream life, very detailed and very realistic, with tremendously exciting content. I'm a breakfast bore – I'll always begin: "I had such a great dream last night... "

What I see when I look in the mirror... someone older than I thought.

My favourite item of clothing... my Ralph Lauren jodhpurs: they're a gesture of intent. I get up every day determined to ride and find that if I put them on, it's more likely to happen.

I wish I'd never worn... There's a number of errors, like flares and long scarves, but I feel no guilt for that. There was the striped purple tank-top my mother knitted me – that was a mistake. There was also a terrible crochet dress in synthetic fibres. Yet I was young – and there are no photos.

It's not fashionable but I like... my North Face anorak, which I live in during winter. I love it!

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at... not doing anything domestic.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... I really am a truly disastrous cook. If I'm making toast I don't just stay and wait, I'll go off and read something and forget until I can smell it. A lot of burning goes on in my kitchen.

All my money goes on... At the moment I'm extending my house so there are lots of boring things, like foundations, which you need, but you don't really see the obvious benefits.

If I have time to myself... I like to walk and swim and ride. Or I'll read history, never fiction. I'm also a great one for the mid-afternoon nap if I can get it.

I drive... a Porsche Carrera. And a Welsh Section B pony called Harry.

My house is... a very small and pokey farm worker's cottage in North Yorkshire, which we're endeavouring turn into a house. We originally bought it as a weekend place but loved it so much that we moved in. This is a tribute to how well we get on as there is no room to get away from each other.

My most valuable possession is... the well I bought in Gambia, which turned out to be the first of something like 80 across the country, built in the yards of primary schools. The water is for drinking and it enables the growing of food.

My favourite building... the Tower of London. The site is wonderful and feels so haunted. It's such an evocative experience.

Movie heaven... Gone with the Wind.

A book that changed me... E P Thompson's The Making of the English Working Classes.

My favourite work of art... I'm very fond of a Van Gogh sketch I use to own a print of. It's a woman bending down and working and you can't see her face [Peasant woman gleaning, 1885]. It's only a few simple lines but the power of those lines is tremendous.

The person who really makes me laugh... Peter Kay. He is wonderful; he has such energy. And an ability to take you to a very comical situation with such little effort.

The shop I can't walk past... Harrods.

The best invention ever... the telephone.

In 10 years' time, I hope to... have a house in England and two abroad in different and lovely places, and to have around me the people I have now, plus an extra grandchild – she knows!

My greatest regret... I wish I'd had a better education; I've had to do a lot of learning on my own.

My life in seven words... entertaining, volatile, grounded, exploratory, happy, thoughtful, spiritual.

A life in brief
Philippa Gregory was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1954 and her family moved to Bristol when she was two. An author of historical fiction, her best-known book, The Other Boleyn Girl, was made into a major film earlier this year, starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. Her screenplay for a BBC adaptation of her novel, A Respectable Trade, won her a Bafta nomination. She is a regular contributor to Channel 4's Time Team and lives in North Yorkshire with her husband and one of her two children, her 15-year-old son Adam. The Other Queen, her latest book, about Mary Queen of Scots, is published 21 August by Harper Collins.

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