PASSED/FAILED: Penelope Lively

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The Independent Online
Penelope Lively, 63, is a Booker and Whitbread prizewinner. The paperback of Heat Wave, her latest novel, will be published in June, as will Beyond the Blue Mountains, her new collection of short stories.

Chapter one: Primary school? No. I didn't go to school until I was 12. I was born and grew up in Egypt. I think my mother couldn't be bothered to drive the four miles to a school in Cairo and I was educated at home by a sort of nanny-turned-governess who used a jolly good teaching kit from the Parents National Educational Union.

Chapter two: Secondary school? My father sent me to a boarding school, the name of which I can't remember, for about six months and then to another, The Downs in Sussex, where I was excruciatingly unhappy for four years. The school was rigorously devoted to the improvement of its girls' lacrosse and netball.

Chapter three: Swot of the form? I emerged with eight subjects - and distinctions in seven - at School Certificate [equivalent of O-level] in History, Latin, English, French, Geography, Maths and the Sciences. I have never had so great an exam success. My end of term report said: "Her exam results were good. If only we could say the same about her performance on the lacrosse field!"

Chapter four: Sharp learning curve? My father at this point thought that girls as well as boys ought to be sent to university but the school pulled a face and said that its girls went to finishing schools in Switzerland. He sent me at 16 to Blunt House, a crammer in Surrey which was all about getting girls into Oxbridge. I dug my heels in and refused to do Higher School Certificate (A-levels); I wanted to read History and didn't want to be bothered with anything else.

Chapter five: Oxford accent? I did the St Anne's entrance paper and got in. Then it was downhill all the way. I had a fine time - there was one woman to 10 men - and I was not an assiduous student. I got a Third in Modern History; but I didn't waste it. Reading history determined the kind of novelist I am. It is not that I write historical novels but that the subject formed a climate of mind. Like historians, I am interested in conflicts of evidence: there is no one version of any set of events.

Postscript: Glittering prizes? An OBE for "services to literature" and an Hon D.Lit from Tufts University in Boston, Mass. The first literary prize I ever won was a Carnegie award for my children's book, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe: "Don's Wife Wins Book Award" (my husband is Professor Jack Lively) was one newspaper headline which - rightly - attracted the fury of feminists.

I won the Booker for Moon Tiger and the children's bit of the Whitbread for A Stitch in Time. When I was 15, I was very proud of winning second prize in a Somerset village fete for "Owner and Dog Who Most Resemble Each Other". It was my aunt's dog, an Alsatian, borrowed for the occasionn

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