Mary Wesley's latest novel, 'A Dubious Legacy', was published by Black Swan on 4 February ( pounds 5.99).

I HAD a wonderful nanny at this stage in my life: it was June 1913, and I was just about to be one year old. We're on a beach in Cornwall, and I'm sitting between my brother and sister, eating seaweed and looking belligerent.

Her name was Hilda Scott and she was marvellous, but she was only with me until I was three. Then my mother sent her away. She wanted my brother to speak French before he went to school, so we had a French governess instead. But I wasn't told my nanny was going, and she really had been the be-all and end-all. She was much more a mother to me than my mother; she took me on, from the moment of birth.

Quite suddenly, I was standing at the top of the stairs in my grandmother's house - we stayed there a great deal - and I remember what I was wearing, and what nanny was wearing, and that she was weeping and that she was leaving and I couldn't understand it. It was incomprehensible to me, because I hadn't been warned.

I can remember the pictures on the walls and where we stood, and I suppose I was going out because I had an awful mackintosh on that my sister and I both had, which we both detested, and nanny was leaving. I can't remember anything else.

I think it made me very insecure; I've never felt secure again. But she never left my life, she always kept in touch with me - I think I was her favourite baby.

She was the only nanny I ever had, and after her we had endless, endless governesses, which went on and on and on until I was about 14. I once counted 16 of them. I asked my mother why we had so many and she said: 'They none of them liked you, darling.'

I imagine I was bloody-minded to begin with. When my nanny left, I remember I wouldn't talk to the unfortunate French girl who replaced her. I would say to my brother, 'Tell that woman that I want . . .' Because she had taken nanny's place.

No, I didn't ever get any security from my mother or, for that matter, from my brother and sister, who used to tease me. They made a pair, they always did things together and I did things alone, and I remained separated from them.

We were financially quite comfortably off, and my father was in the Army, so we were forever moving house. My mother once counted up 27 houses in the first 25 years of marriage. I didn't question it at the time, but it had a funny effect on me, which I've only realised quite belatedly: I never had any friends, because we were never in any neighbourhood long enough, and I wasn't sent to school until I was 14.

So I never knew anybody my own age, and when I eventually grew up I didn't have the usual gaggle of girlfriends and I was terrified of women. As a child I was very lonely, but I liked it. I'm a solitary person. I was very happy to be alone and I'm still very happy to be solitary, it suits me.

I have a theory about my nanny, that she started me off writing. She used to tell us fairy stories; she'd say there was a queen of the fairies and a king of the dwarfs, and we used to write letters to them from a very early age, and then we'd get an answer, of course written by nanny, which was absolutely lovely, a big thrill.

When she left, my sister and I continued to write these letters and my mother was very disgruntled because she had to answer them.

It's an awful thing to say, but I know that I didn't love my mother. I know I didn't because she went off with my sister when I was about 14 and left me at a boarding school for a year and a half while she went to India to be with my father. And all the other children used to be frightfully homesick and I remember thinking I should be crying for my mother, too, and I tried jolly hard and couldn't.

She died 18 years ago. I felt remorse, I felt I should have loved her more, tried more, but she was never very fond of me. She was wonderfully tactless. She once said to me: 'I never wanted another child, and if I had to have another, I wanted a boy.'

I once asked my nanny: 'What time was I born, nanny?' and she said: 'You were born when we were dressing for breakfast, darling, and your mother handed you to me and said: 'Here, take the baby.' '

She was a lovely young woman of 25, so she would have gathered me in as her own, wouldn't she? The trauma of her departure would have been as bad for her as it was for me.

She was always loyal and whatever I did later in life, if I behaved badly and everybody was on top of me - because I was divorcing or something like that - she'd stand by me and she never criticised. She was an absolutely lovely person.

I ended by being responsible for her when she was very old. I eased her into the last job she had, looking after my first husband's sister, and then I eased her into an old people's home in Reigate (Surrey), where eventually she died aged 100.

The reason I've got this snapshot is that her nephew found it among her papers and sent it to me because he thought that I would like to have it.

(Photograph omitted)

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