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 occasionnReuse content