Nina Stibbe - Credo: I wave at people I don't know all the time

The author talks letter-writing, honking at scantily clad women and coconut bagels

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The Independent Online

I left school at 15 because I got carsick on the bus

I wasn't put on the O-level list, I was put on the CSE list, which was a low-achieving certificate of education, and I was disgruntled; I was told it was because I never came to school. So I thought, I won't bother then, I'll do something more useful. My sister and I already had jobs, as we weren't very well off during those years; we were auxiliary nurses in a nursing home a few villages away. So even while I was still at school, some days I'd hop off the bus early to go to work.

I've always loved writing letters

When I went to live in France, I was a bit lonely, so anyone whose address I remembered, I wrote to them. Even people who weren't friends … anybody. And they all wrote back. I was a big penfriend-haver. I'd write to Whizzer and Chips. I wrote to anyone. I've stopped recently, as it seems pretty eccentric.

Alan Bennett, the bastard

I heard him say on the radio, "I don't know where she got this idea that I'm good at mending stuff" [which Stibbe had related in her collection of letters, Love, Nina]. Then he wrote the same in the London Review of Books (LRB). I thought, I've upset a national treasure and genuinely lovely person – how'd that happen? Then someone wrote to the LRB pointing out Alan's reports of mending fuses and jump-starting the car in his diaries. I should've felt vindicated but I felt worse. A lot of publicity [for Love, Nina] led with Alan being good at fixing stuff; I wondered whether he got sick of people shouting, "I've got wonky shelves" at him.

It didn't occur to me to approach a publisher with the letters

My sister Vic found them in 1999; I was pregnant, and I'd gone to see Vic's new house and to go baby-shopping, but she said, "I found this funny box of letters of yours." We read them all afternoon; we were hooting. I never got my baby-changing mats. But why would I take them to a publisher? They were private letters.

When, A decade later, I finally sent the letters to Penguin, I did so unedited

without making myself seem nice. And I thought, shit, I made a big mistake there, as I come out looking like such a… well, you know.

Online commenters are odd

In Love, Nina, one of the things I wrote about doing was peeing in the basin in [my partner's] room in his halls of residence; I mentioned it in a piece I wrote recently and somebody said in the comments, "You posh twat, saying basin instead of sink." And I thought: but I pissed in it!"

Villages are awful

When I look back, the village [where Stibbe grew up and around which her debut novel Man at the Helm is set] was horrible as an entity, but the individuals were, largely, nice. There's just something about villages, everybody knowing everything about you…

My partner and I were going to get married

when we moved to Cornwall, but we saw an amazing camper van and bought that instead.

I wave at people I don't know all the time

I did it with a woman jogging in a really skimpy outfit the other day; I thought it was my friend. I beeped and she looked furious. And I wave at the kids' friends when I see the school uniform; at least, I'll think it's my daughter's friend, but it'll be a girl in the year above who's a right bitch.

Bagels have started tasting of coconut

Everything seems to have started tasting of coconut these days. It might be hormones, who knows. But just now I thought, I'm starving, I'll have a quick bagel with marmalade. Then I thought, oh, I won't like it, it'll taste of coconut; and sure enough, it did. 1

Nina Stibbe, 52, is the author of the bestselling 'Love, Nina'. Her debut, autobiographical novel, 'Man at the Helm' (£12.99, Viking), is out now

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