My Secret Life: Victoria Hislop, novelist, 49

The home I grew up in ... is in Kent. Thirty years after my parents sold up, I gave in to a long-held desire and went to see it. It was the same, but I realised how much I'd changed.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a tennis player at Wimbledon. I spent hours and hours hitting a ball against the wooden garage doors. As I saw on the nostalgia visit, those doors have been replaced with something more modern. That made me sad.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... singing. I practise with my karaoke machine. Singing is a great release. My favourite numbers? Early Elton John.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... ice-skating. I really hate ice, falling over on it, being cold, and feeling insecure.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was having my first child. This is where my life divides into the "before" and "after".

My greatest inspiration ... comes from visiting unfamiliar foreign cities, sitting in cafés and wondering what goes on in the lives of the people there – and eavesdropping.

The one thing I'd change about myself ... is my fear of cookery books. I can't bear the potential disappointment of slavishly following a recipe and it all being a waste.

At night I dream of ... very little. When my head touches the pillow I am gone in seconds, and awake eight hours later from a seemingly dreamless sleep. When I do remember, it's usually been a nightmare.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... very little. We don't have any mirrors in our house with any decent light. I recommend it.

It's not fashionable but I like ... my black padded coat, full length and shapeless. My daughter says I look like the Michelin man.

My real-life villain ... Robert Mugabe. That anyone could practise such vile and evil cruelty on his own people beggars belief.

My style icon ... the simple elegance of Jackie Kennedy. But for me, jeans seem more practical. It would be a waste to dress up.

The shop I can't walk past ... any stationers. Perfect for the woman who works at home and needs something to cheer up her desk.

The best invention ever ... the printing press. Civilisation would stand still without it.

A book that changed me ... Wuthering Heights. It's full of literary depth – but intensely exciting too. It woke me up.

My favourite work of art ... Picasso's Guernica. It captures, on a single canvas, the cruelty and violence that characterised the Spanish civil war. Standing in front of it is like watching a film, complete with a soundtrack – you can hear the squeals of dying animals.

My favourite item of clothing ... a turquoise kaftan with gold stitching and matching bikini. I catch sight of them and my spirits are lifted by the thought of summer.

All my money goes on ... Greek lessons. I have four hours of one-to-one tuition a week and I am addicted. It's like a code that I am cracking, slowly but surely.

If I have time to myself ... I read.

My house is ... 500 years old. It's made mostly of wattle and daub and it's a real miracle that it's still standing.

My most valuable possession is ... a line-drawing of our children. It captures their essence in a way that photographs never do.

My favourite building ... the Alhambra, the palace of the Moorish leaders in Granada.

Movie heaven ... Anything with George Clooney. He is clever, subtle and completely mesmerising on screen.

I drive... an Audi convertible. I'm unashamed to admit that I love cars. It is like an armchair on wheels. I often drive slowly so that I can spend longer sitting in it.

The last album I bought/downloaded ... "7" by Mixaelis Hatzgiannis, Greece's number one pop star. I love his music and the lyrics help me learn phrases that would never appear in books of Greek grammar.

In 10 years' time, I hope to ... be the person who still never plans beyond the end of next month. Making long-term plans and schemes is my definition of dullness.

My greatest regret ... this is the hardest question of all. Even things that I have slightly regretted in the past, have turned out for the best; had some meaning and place in my life.

My life in six words...Privileged, lucky, one I love living.

A life in brief

Victoria Hislop was born in Bromley in 1959. The author of the No 1 best-selling novel The Island, for which she won Newcomer of the Year at the 2007 British Book Awards, she is a former journalist and met her husband, the Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, while studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford. They have two children together and live in Kent. Victoria is one of the judges for the 2009 Costa Book Awards, which take place on 27 January

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