During the day it was magical. The huge, airy rooms smelled of pine and roses. My mother played bridge and gossiped with the other embassy women and I squatted in the servants' quarters watching our cook create wonderful meals. At six the sun went over the yardarm and in all the houses around us glasses were lifted and drawing-rooms filled with women in cocktail dresses and men in evening suits. I passed round silver bowls of peanuts and big black squashy olives.
My violent father was working in the embassy in Tehran and came home in the evenings. The nights were sombre and threatening - dinner party conversation ruined by my father's rage, my mother's sobbing. Only the first light of dawn brought peace. My father's snoring signalled the end of the nightmare.
Once I collected a big bowl of tadpoles and hid it in the drawing-room. My memory of the summer of 1948 was when I stood dressed in my party frock and watched the first trickle of tiny frogs still with tails attached move in waves across the dining-room and then the flash of anger in my father's eyes as his guests ran screaming out to the front lawn.
My favourite place was the veranda. There, surrounded by my menagerie of animals, I was happy. The rattan armchairs and sofas were similar to every other house in the compound. Truncated elephants' feet housed umbrellas, and brass inlaid tea tables vied with leathery smelling poufs for space. Punch, Country Life and the Spectator lay on rosewood coffee tables and kept my father in touch with England. Wide steps led down to the garden and there I sat surrounded by cushions, always reading. I was safe in my world of books and animals.
My mother entertained her women friends on the veranda and I marvelled at their dresses from designer houses all over the world. My mother, never one to shirk competition, had boxes carried by the Queen's Messenger, bringing her tea and chocolates from Harrods. For a long time I thought we had a house in London called Harrods and most of the rows between my parents were over my mother's desire to import everything.
I imagine our house and all the houses that surrounded the ambassador's summer residency must have once belonged to rich Persian families. The grounds were laid out with endless lily ponds and in the big circular swimming pool that we all shared swam a neighbour's bear. Eventually this delightful furry little brown animal was shipped to London Zoo and I visited him regularly, both of us aliens in an alien country.
Once outside the big thick walls that protected the British houses, I was aware of the thin children with their pleading eyes. But any attempt to take food to them sent my parents into a rage. "Feed one, and you have to feed them all," they reasoned.
In 1949 our time was up and my mother decided that my twin and I should go to boarding school in Dorset. The house was the last time as a child that I knew what it was to be happy. It will always live in my memory.
Again I am leaving. I have lived here in a Tuscan house in the middle of a forest for the last six years. My little flat is built over a derelict cantina and is uncomfortable, but I have my forest. I live, as always, in total isolation. Here I have written four novels and I am writing a fifth. But I have to leave. Maybe writers must always be peripatetic.
`The Wicked World of Women' (Harper Collins) is published on 22 January.Reuse content