The World According To... Santa Montefiore

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The Independent Culture
Santa Montefiore's first novel, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, was a bestseller. She is about to publish her fifth. Aged 34, she is married to the historian and writer Simon Sebag Montefiore, and they live in London with their two children

Your first four novels are partly set in Argentina - what's the attraction?

All through my teens I knew that I wanted to write this big, sweeping love story. I went to Argentina and fell in love with the place, but when I went back after my first year at university, I found that I didn't fit in anymore. The people I had lived with had moved on. It was that feeling of not being able to recapture something that had meant a great deal to me that inspired the theme for my first book. I loved writing about Argentina and just couldn't let it go.

What's on your bedside table?

A photograph of my husband and children; two silk-bound books, one for each of my children, in which I write little notes about them and thoughts, and stick in mementoes; books for research; pens; and nail oil, which I apply every night.

Do you ever feel overshadowed by your sister, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson?

No, because we do completely different things. If I was trying to be a television presenter, then maybe I would.

You converted to Judaism before marrying - do you miss Christmas?

No. We celebrate Hanukkah with my in-laws, but we have a cottage on my parents' farm, so we spend Christmas Day with them and we give them presents. We make it very clear to the children that it's not our festival.

Have you ever had writer's block?

No, my biggest problem is not being able to get to my desk because of the children and various other things. My husband helps with stories now - we thrash out a story together over a bottle of wine.

Which public building should be knocked down?

The Lloyd's building.

Huge advances: a blessing or a curse?

A blessing. You can never be paid too much. I work very hard and my books sell very well, so I deserve my advances.

Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

They're my two favourite writers. But I'd go for Marquez. I love the magic of his books, the sensual way he writes. What's it like sharing your name with a man famed for going down chimneys?

As a child, I hated it and wanted to be called Jane. I got sick of the jokes. But I now enjoy the fact that nobody else has it. I'm named after a crop of barley that my father produced called "senter", and my mother compromised with Santa, with means "saint" in Spanish.

`Last Voyage of The Valentina', by Santa Montefiore, is published on 10 March by Hodder & Stoughton (pounds 14.99)

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