Which book has reduced you to tears?
Gone With the Wind, which I read when I should have been doing the School Certificate at the age of 13. I cried at the end - how could Rhett have left her?
What is Britain's biggest triumph?
It's literature because it regularly renews itself with incomers. Salman Rushdie, whose work I admire very much, is probably the most famous example, but there are younger writers like Monica Ali (I loved Brick Lane).
Who do you most resemble in character - Boudicca, Mary Queen of Scots or Marie Antoinette?
None of them. Nobody has any idea what Boudicca was like, but I certainly don't go charging about setting fire to the City of London. Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette were, above all, royal - and that hardly applies to me. I'm more like Charles II, another of my subjects, because he was pleasure-loving.
Have you ever stolen anything?
Yes, a little white plastic anchor from Woolworths in the Corn Market, Oxford, when I was nine. For years I thought the police would come and get me.
What would you serve Tony Blair for dinner?
The food should be nourishing because of his physical troubles, but I would serve it in a doggy bag for him to eat on his way to the US.
Who is your next subject?
The title is The Women in the Life of Louis XIV, which will include his mother, Anne of Austria, his sister-in-law, Henriette-Anne of Orleans, his illegitimate daughters and granddaughters, and the mistresses.
What is your biggest fear?
The dark. I've been terrified of the dark since I was a child.
Do you ever worry that you have got a fact wrong in one of your books?
Yes. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about a detail. Sometimes I go upstairs and check, and sometimes it was necessary and sometimes it wasn't. But it's still an obsession.
Do you consider yourself a success?
So far - but it could all go wrong.
What is it like to live with
It depends on the writer. I wouldn't want to live with Proust or Kafka - what a ghastly thought! - but Harold Pinter is fine.
How would you spend a
My last birthday was at Chewton Glen Hotel, New Milton, Hampshire. Harold took me for a treat. On the day itself we had a picnic at nearby Pylewell Park, which belongs to my daughter-in-law's father. It was perfect. Lots of children. Lots of champagne.Reuse content