Where are you now and what can you see?
I am at my cottage in Hampshire, in a wild and lush garden surrounded by the sound of birdsong.
What are you currently reading?
Countess Golovine’s memoirs of emperor Alexander, full of fascinating court gossip, for my next book on all the Romanov tsars.
Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him
Naguib Mahfouz, whose Cairo trilogy is a towering masterpiece that easily equals Tolstoy or Balzac: his characters actually seem alive, loveable yet real, and always surprising.
Describe the room where you usually write
My office is a converted greenhouse with glass on three sides and a view of the back gardens of Kensington houses.
Which fictional character most resembles you?
My wife says I am a cross between Biggles and Woody Allen (at least one is a fictional character) but I’d prefer someone more heroic.
Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?
Catherine the Great’s partner and minister Prince Potemkin – statesman, intellectual – is a loveable but flawed and fascinating character.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s novel ‘One Night in Winter’ is published by Century