You ask the questions: Jilly Cooper

(Such as: Jilly Cooper, are you a snob? And does it bother you to be sneered at by the literary classes?)
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The Independent Culture
Jilly Cooper, 62, a brigadier's daughter, started writing about love and romance in her column for The Sunday Times in 1969. She has since written numerous bestsellers, including Riders, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and Polo. She met her husband Leo while growing up in Yorkshire and has two adopted children, Felix, 30, and Emily, 27. She now lives with Leo and her two dogs, Bessie and Hero, in a 13th-century manor house with 14 acres of land in Gloucestershire. Her 36th book, Score!, is published this week.

You have written books about professional and sexual exchanges among musicians, polo players and TV executives. Have you ever considered checking out politicians?

Mrs Lacey, Huddersfield

My serial hero, Rupert Campbell-Black, was Minister for Sport in Rivals, so I've covered the subject a bit. Nearly 40 years ago I shared a flat near the House of Commons with two very pretty girls. Our building teemed with MPs. The result was a short story called The Merry Wolves of Westminster, which everyone considered too risque to publish until 1980.

You used to say all your romantic heroes were versions of your husband Leo. After Leo, who is your real-life hero?

Timothy Hardman, Staffordshire

When I wrote romances, my heroes were mostly based on Leo. But the bigger books usually have about four heroes, and Leo says even his sexual prowess couldn't accommodate that! My next real-life hero is Bernard Haitink, because he's a wonderful conductor, and no one tried harder to save the Royal Opera House.

Do you prefer the company of dogs to that of humans?

Danny Andrews, Cheshire

Dogs don't talk when I'm trying to write. I'd rather be with my dogs than a boring person, and if I was with someone enchanting I'd be even happier if my dogs were with me as well.

Do you believe in the sanctity of marriage?

Mrs C Peters, Wymondham, Norfolk

Ish. I feel that people who have children, whether married or not, should try as hard as possible to stay together, because if you cling on, things often improve. I also think, along with Bertrand Russell, a happy marriage is the best thing life has to offer.

Are you proud of what you write?

Leila Russell, Poole, Dorset

Sometimes. I'm also amazed that a flake, sacked from about 20 jobs as I was, has managed to produce 37 books. I'm proud that so many people say they enjoy them.

Are you a snob?

Anita Taylor, south London

Probably. But most of the writers I most admire - Proust, Anthony Powell, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Chaucer - had perfect social pitch. But I hope I'm not dismissive or sycophantic to people I might consider a different class to me.

Which character in your novels are you most like?

Sam Thompson, Birmingham

Very difficult. There's a fat, anxious side of me that you find in Tory and Imogen. A wild alter ego is to be found in Emily and Prudence. And because I like to think of myself as vaguely creative, I identify very much with Janey in Riders, Lizzie in Rivals, Daisy in Polo and Georgie in The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous.

Do you really take a notebook with you to dinner parties to take down conversations for use in future novels?

Shelly Court, Godalming, Surrey

No, but I occasionally scribble on my chequebook if something amazing happens. My husband's Aunt Lettice, a seriously good novelist, had a reputation for incontinence because she was always whizzing off to the loo to write things down.

Do you have any qualms about drawing on other literature for inspiration? Do you believe cross-fertilisation between literary ideas becomes plagiarism?

Mrs Kim Harding, Belmont, Hereford

I try desperately hard not to do it. But if you research and read a vast amount on a subject as I do, and make endless notes in a muddled fashion, you sometimes absorb other people's stuff without realising it. I don't approve of it at all, but everyone seems to have done it at some time - Shakespeare, Chaucer, Coleridge.

Who is your greatest literary hero?

Howard Knight, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

Hamlet. It has to be. He's so bewildered and so touching. I always want to leap on to the stage and take him off to the pub before he lays into Laertes. Then I'd introduce him to my nicest spare woman friends. I'm also very fond of Just William and Lochinvar.

Have you passed your driving test yet?

Carmen Preston, Middlesbrough

Yes - it was heavenly. I had a marvellous instructor called Peter Clarkson, who now teaches history of art at university. It took masses of lessons, because we trundled round Gloucestershire looking for houses in which to set The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous. Several sheep had nervous breakdowns. Peter's favourite pupil was a house-hunting Chinese woman, who was always mounting rockeries so she could peer in through ground-floor windows.

If there were a general election tomorrow, how would you vote?

Timothy Foster, St Helens

Labour, unless Chris Patten takes over as Tory leader. He was brave in Hong Kong, and he stays in France because he can't bear to put his dogs through quarantine, so he must be nice. And he's very attractive, always important in a leader.

If you had to sleep with one of your characters, which one would it be and why?

Chloe Campbell, Hampshire

What a lovely question. There's a gorgeous bisexual tenor in my new book Score! called Baby. He's so wicked you couldn't not have fun with him.

How do you get in the mood to write the sexy parts of your books?

John Burrows, Warwick

With increasing difficulty. I try to psych myself into the characters involved. Sometimes I make a list of my exes and try to remember what we did. As you get older, I think it's easier to write about love.

Do you enjoy sex as much as your characters?

Jo Dunn, Dulwich

I'm getting on a bit and one has sometimes to accommodate dicey hips and frozen shoulders. But in principle, yes.

Does it bother you to be sneered at by the literary classes?

Carol Fuller, Guildford

A bit. I had two stinking reviews for my new book, dedicated to my cleaner Anne Mills. Craig Brown suggested she should write my books in future. Alas, I'm even a lousy cleaner and would get fearful reviews for my dusting. The other review was by someone called Charles Spencer. Could he be the man who gave the Royal Family such awful notices at Princess Diana's funeral? If so, I'm in good company.

Next Week

Jack Straw, followed by Linford Christie