My Secret Life: Margaret Drabble, author, 71

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The Independent Online

My parents were ... the first generation in my family to reach higher education and they met at school in Mexborough in Yorkshire. My mother was fiercely ambitious for me and my siblings; she pushed us forward intellectually and had high notions of what we could achieve. My father was quite different – he was very open and extremely kind-hearted.

The house/flat I grew up in ... was a small council house in Pontefract, Wakefield, to which we had been evacuated during the war. We then moved up in the world, to a semi in Sheffield. I was not very fond of either house, to be honest.

When I was a child I wanted to ... swim the Channel and be a marine biologist.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would worry less about other people; which is a largely pointless activity.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... unblocking drains. I learnt it the hard way.

At night I dream of ... travelling in underwater landscapes. These are the best type of dream as they carry no anxiety.

I wish I'd never worn ... high heels; they ruin your feet. A fact that only seems pertinent as you get older.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... I see somebody who needs their hair cutting.

My favourite item of clothing ... at the moment is my green summer dress bought from a little shop called Wardrobe where they walk you round and advise you what to buy. It's cut on the cross and is made from the most wonderful fabric, I like it very much.

I drive ... a Honda accord, which I love.

My house is ... a lovely place by the sea in west Somerset and when I'm obliged to be in London, a big old house just off Ladbroke Grove that belongs to my husband, Michael. It's nice in Ladbroke Grove, but nicer by the sea.

My favourite work of art ... is Van Gogh's 'Almond Blossom'. There is a real joyfulness in his use of colour.

My favourite building ... is the British Library. Beautifully designed, it draws you in to work in an encouraging yet very calm way.

A book that changed me ... was Doris Lessing's 'The Golden Notebook'. It told the truth about women's live in a way I didn't know was possible, nor allowed. It reground the lens through which I viewed my own life and the lives of other women.

Movie heaven ... 'Some Like it Hot'. I've seen it so often I don't need to see it again, but I think very highly of it nonetheless.

My greatest regrets ... are the little things: not having said hello to someone on the street or not offering someone a lift when they were waiting at the bus stop. The small things in life are the only things that I feel regret over.

The person who really makes me laugh ... is my friend, the writer Julian Mitchell. Witty and conversational, it is a wonderful feeling being in his presence. For me, having him around lightens an occasion.

The last time I cried ... was this morning while reading Van Gogh's letters. His writing at the time Gaugin left him is heart-rending. Despite what others have written, I think he displayed a real heroism throughout the period of his illness.

My five-year plan ... I don't have a five-year plan. I'd just like to stay alive for another five years, to be honest.

My life in six words ... I find happiness through my children.

A life in brief

Born in Sheffield on 5 June 1939, Dame Margaret Drabble, along with her sister, AS Byatt, is considered one of the great British authors of the post-war period. She published her first novel, A Summer Bird Cage, two years after graduating from Cambridge. Drabble has three children from her first marriage, and is now married to the writer Michael Holroyd. She will speak at the Courtauld Gallery, London WC2, on 13 October. See