Slick city: 'I didn't go to New York until I was 30. It's an extraordinary place'

'I've met children all over the world and they all laugh at the same things'

First holiday memory?

Clacton-on-Sea in the Fifties. It wasn't too far from Kingston where I grew up and it had a beach. My mum used to like playing bingo on the pier and I once remember her winning me a beautiful white fluffy toy poodle. I was desperate to have a dog at the time, so it was the next best thing.

Best holiday?

Prague. I went with my daughter Emma – just after the Velvet Revolution in 1990 – and it was astonishing how completely unspoilt it was. It was such a delight to walk around a city with so many lovely buildings – and yet it hardly cost a penny. I'm almost scared to go back because I think it's changed enormously.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

North Norfolk. I've just come back from there and it's the most beautiful place. Because it's so flat, the sky seems endless and, at the moment, there are poppies and wild roses everywhere. The saltmarshes are very strange and wonderful but, best of all, are the vast unspoilt beaches. Holkham beach is my absolute favourite. Norfolk still has lots of second-hand bookshops too, and enormous platefuls of fantastic home-grown food – so it ticks every box.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I've met children from all over the world – yet they all laugh in exactly the same places when I give a talk and worry about the same things. There's something immensely touching about that.

Ideal travelling companion?

I love going on holiday with my friend Trish, because she likes going for walks along the beaches and browsing in book shops. Also Emma, because we like going to art galleries and shopping. And, Nick Sharratt who illustrates my books, because once a year we go on a Landmark Trust holiday together. Last time, we stayed in a Gothic temple in Stowe, which was the most beautiful, bizarre place.

Holiday reading?

I like to re-read books when I'm away. In Norfolk I took a biography of the children's author E Nesbit, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and a lovely volume of short stories by the novelist, Elizabeth Taylor.

Where has seduced you?

New York. I didn't go until I was 30 and suddenly there I was in this extraordinary place. There was a transit strike at the time, so everybody adapted to wearing their running shoes. By the end of the day, there were T-shirts being sold on street corners saying "I've survived the transit strike". It's just such an enterprising, energetic place.

Better to travel or arrive?

Arrive. I'm not very keen on travelling – I tend to flap about missing planes. The one exception, however, is when I've done the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai. They fly you there first class, so the whole experience is restful and pain-free.

Best hotel?

The Four Seasons in Florence. It's converted from a former palace, with fantastic staff, perfect food and lovely gardens. You feel like a princess.

Worst travel experience?

Being stranded in Virginia on a book tour. All the planes had been grounded because of a thunderstorm, so I was put up in a bizarre hotel, which had a Wild West theme. There was a stuffed buffalo in the lobby and all the guests were dressed as cowboys and were all incredibly drunk.

Dream trip?

I've had dream trips to Australia and New Zealand on book tours – so I'd like to repeat them, with more time out for sightseeing. Sydney has this magical combination of a lovely, sophisticated city and fantastic beaches. I'm a huge Katherine Mansfield fan too, so I went to her house in Wellington, New Zealand, which was pretty special.

Favourite city?

Boston. Somebody said it has 80 per cent of the culture of New York, but none of the hassle. I love the public gardens, Newbury Street and the Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum. It's a very friendly place where you feel instantly at home.

Where next?

I have a week booked in a converted chapel in Yorkshire. I'll be able to commune with nature but still watch a bit of TV at night. There'll probably be at least one trip to Betty's Tea Room in York.

Award-winning children's author best known for the Tracy Beaker series. Her new novel Four Children and It, is a tribute to the E Nesbit classic, published on 16 August.