Never go anywhere without a sink plug, a screwdriver, loo paper and a twist of wire

PASSPORT: DOROTHY DUNNETT

Lady Dorothy Dunnett's first passport stamp reminds her of a school trip to Germany just before the Second World War.

"I must have been about 15," she recalls. "A whole group of us girls fell head-over-heels in love with those handsome Nazi officers; they were ever so tall with their blond hair and swastikas on their armbands. At that age, we were quite oblivious to what was going on - the politics of it all. All we saw were some very good-looking officers."

Lady Dunnett's work over the years as a historical novelist - she has published 22 oeuvres, including the best-selling Lymond Chronicles and Niccolo series - has taken her all over the world.

One stamp from Malaga came from her first trip abroad alone in 1947. "The plane had to stop to be refuelled in Bordeaux. There was a delay, and the airline put on a spectacular lunch for the passengers right there on the runway. I remember sitting at this beautiful table all laid out with silver and glass, the best Bordeaux wines and the sun shining off the wet tarmac - it was quite wonderful. That's better than the treatment you get nowadays if there happens to be a delay, isn't it?"

Three years later, Lady Dunnett's portraits - now exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy - fuelled an interest in art abroad. One stamp is from an eventful trip to the Topkapi museum in Istanbul. "A security guard thought I was planning to steal something from the museum and it took me some time to reassure him I was just admiring the paintings. I thought I was going to be arrested at one point."

Lady Dunnett's most recent trip to research her latest novel took her to Ukraine. "The Ukrainians are the most wonderful, generous people - they own absolutely nothing, but they are determined to make something of their newfound freedom. There's no money to invest in culture, either. In Sudak, there are the remains of the most wonderful early fortified castles. But you walk around on these broken shards from the 15th century, they're lying there everywhere underfoot - there are just no resources to protect the Ukrainians' heritage."

Lady Dunnett, awarded an OBE for services to literature in 1992, has some hot travel tips for others going it alone. "I try to look as decrepit as possible when I travel; I wear scruffy clothes, and never any jewellery - just the bare necessities. However, I never, ever travel without a screwdriver, a bathplug, some loo paper and a twist of wire (that's for when there are no locks on the door). They're absolute essentials." To the more far-flung countries, she also takes a good stash of cigarettes and dollars as hard currency.

o Lady Dorothy Dunnett's 'Caprice and Rondo' is published this month (Michael Joseph, pounds 16.99).

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