Education: Passed/Failed Penelope Fitzgerald

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Penelope Fitzgerald, 82, won the

Booker Prize in 1979 with her novel

Offshore. Another book, At Freddie's,

was based on her experiences as a

teacher at a theatrical school. Other

works include Gate of Angels and her

latest publication, The Blue Flower

School of hard Knox: My father was sent down from Corpus, Oxford, for idleness. I'm afraid they played bridge all the time. He was never idle afterwards. He was the editor of Punch ["Evo" Knox] and it was a literary household. He had to do a weekly article; he would be pacing to and fro while the printer's boy was waiting in the hall. I went to a kindergarten in Hampstead and that was the only time I was really happy at school. We walked over Hampstead Heath to a dairy to watch and draw cows.

Top girl: At the age of seven I went to a boarding school in Eastbourne. I was terribly homesick. Prep schools then were full of children whose parents were in India - all sobbing at night, but parents wouldn't know. No, I haven't written a novel about my schools, because the very thought of them comes down on me like a depression. My father didn't earn much as editor of Punch; he was the first to ask for and get a pension. My parents didn't talk about money but everything was dominated by having to get a scholarship; you were very much under the hammer. I can't tell you the effect of scholarships on a child. All through my education I felt I had to be top and get scholarships. I didn't ever stop to think: what the hell?

Maidens bowled over: Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire, where I got a scholarship, gave me an excellent education but was a terrible place. The water in the jug for washing in the morning would freeze in the night. It was founded on the extraordinary idea that it should be as much like a boys' school as possible. We wore ties with stripes. We played cricket. I did "Higher Certificate" (A-level) in English, French and history. English, which was my subject, was really a refuge from the horrors of boarding school; you could lose yourself in reading.

Somerville like it hot: Going up for the exam to Somerville (Oxford) was very exciting. You stayed in a room with an open fire and could put coal on it! I got the "Senior Scholarship" of pounds 100 a year. My father had got a scholarship to Corpus. My mother had a scholarship to Somerville - and so did my daughter; I don't know if her daughter will. Because of having the scholarship, I felt that I had to get a first, which I did. Finals were an ordeal. They assumed that you had a good memory and went on from there. Because it was an English exam, there were a lot of student poets with flowers in their inkwells.

Novel approach: I don't think that going to university helps you to write novels at all: the sooner you finish your education, the better. My novels are taught in Italy, China and, of course, the US; I think it's because they are short. People write to me: "In what sense are your books feminist?" As a matter of fact, they aren't feminist at all. "Are they post-modernist?" No. I point out that it would be better not to study them.

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