1. I am an eternal optimist
As a little child, I believed I had a guardian angel who protected me. That sense remained with me until my mid-twenties - although my faith in the existence of guardian angels, as such, became a little less literal! Nevertheless, I felt I was 'lucky' and although life was not perfect by any means - love affairs went wrong, jobs did not always fall into my lap - I felt I was protected in some way. But life is not that simple nor straightforward is it? And as I grew older, one or two major challenges came my way. It threw me for a while. I began to worry that 'my luck' had run out. But one of the great virtues of growing older, of having children, of dealing with loss and illness and so on, is that you learn that ultimately you just have to get out of bed each morning and get on with life. No one will do it for you. And while my faith in my guardian angel has been dented a little, I do still feel lucky.
2. I never give up
I am extremely tenacious. As a young woman I was determined to make something of myself in television. I got into the BBC quite young, and just worked my way up through the ranks - as a secretary then a production assistant and then a researcher - until I became the first newsreader on Breakfast TV. I went to work each day full of energy, and discovered very early on that if you are keen and willing, you will find life more interesting and rewarding. Even if the job you are doing is not ultimately what you want to do, if you do it with enthusiasm you will learn from it and it will ultimately help you achieve your ambition.
3. I was an Agony Aunt
When my children were young, I wrote a lot of gardening and 'house' oriented articles. One day my editor asked me if I would be interested in being their 'Agony Aunt'. I did it for a couple of years and got a huge amount of satisfaction from it. Firstly there is a lot to be said for having a weekly column to write. It's a great discipline, and whatever stresses and strains you are going through in your own life, there comes the day when you just have to concentrate on that column - a deadline is a wonderful thing. The Agony column had an added value though - because I realised that I enjoyed trying to solve people's problems. I am a very logical person and love puzzles, so problem solving came fairly naturally to me. And I was enormously touched that people trusted me with their relationship issues, or job worries. I worked very hard to really think right round their problem and give as thoughtful and rounded answer as I could. It was a really interesting time in my life.
4. My favourite book as a child
Was Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals'. I can still recall sitting on the sofa in my parent's sitting room, completely absorbed in the extraordinary lives of the Durrell clan. The pictures Durrell paints of his life on Corfu were so vivid, so funny, so at variance with my own childhood - which was far more orderly than his - revolving as it did around school and church on Sundays. But I absolutely identified with this boy who was free to roam the island in search of wildlife. I was free to roam too, in the holidays and at weekends. In those days children were left to their own devices much more than they are now, and our 'playground' was a vast wood and common land opposite our house. I would spend all day on the 'common' building camps and living in my imagination. Interestingly, one of the characters I most admired in the book was the mother. This unflappable woman at the centre of her unruly family, who seemed un-phased by anything life could throw at her, and for whom a 'normal' day might involve moving to larger villa to accommodate her son's invited guests; a woman who could cook supper for thirty people without turning a hair was someone to be admired. This woman somehow entered my soul and became a role model of sorts. This was the sort of woman I wanted to be….
5. I am a home-maker
I love to decorate, garden and entertain. I am unashamedly domesticated and always have been. Even as a child I enjoyed cooking, and took over caring for my family briefly when my lovely grandmother died when I was aged eleven. I created endless play-houses as a little child - one made from the exposed roots of a vast old oak tree in the woods opposite our house. I would drag my dolls, along with a tiny chest of drawers, a bed and a table and chairs, and set up home in my 'root house'. I developed a strong visual sense and insisted on choosing my own fabrics and wallpaper for my bedroom. Aged nine or ten, I chose a dark red William Morris print - not quite the normal look for a little girl. It was very sophisticated. Since then I have 'done up' several houses and my house now is a constant 'work in progress'. My parents are both architects, and my mother was convinced I would follow them into their profession. But instead I chose journalism, and never regretted it. I have had a fascinating career in television and am very happy working as a writer.
6. I love to travel - but with a purpose.
I was lucky enough to travel quite a lot when I was a reporter. I went to the States, Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia. I enjoyed it so much because I got to see life behind the 'mask' of tourism. The 'boat people' of Hong Kong who cooked me lunch on their junk in Hong Kong harbour, in the shadow of the city's skyscrapers. These people had so little - just a bed and a sheet and little pot stove on which they cooked up greens and rice each day. But they shared it with me and I felt very privileged. Now, as a writer, I get the chance to travel to the places I am writing about. You have to know a place in order to describe it. My latest book - Daughters of the Silk Road - took me to Venice, Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam. I had been to Venice and Bruges before, but I needed to see them through the eyes of my characters. I am already planning my next book and my next trip.
7. Although I am basically a very gregarious person.
I am increasingly happiest when left to my own devices in my little writing 'shed'. I find writing has brought me enormous peace. I feel so happy with my 'characters'. Maybe it's because I like to be in charge. Or maybe it's because I am free to wander in my mind wherever I wish. Of course, writing is a disciplined business. Once you have established a story and created your characters, you can't just whisk them all off to the other side of the world on a whim. But you can kill people off, or make them fall in or out of love… that's quite satisfying.
8. I am a good organiser (aka a control freak!)
I do like to be in charge. My family are used to it. I think it's all the years of working in TV - when I had to organise shoots or report on stories… and being meticulous was vital; you can't have a film crew turning up at the wrong address, or find that your interviewee is not expecting you. In later life, I have worked as an Event Producer, and that requires mega attention to detail. You have literally hundreds of different elements that go into creating an event, and if just one thing is wrong, you can guarantee that that is the thing people will remember. Now as a writer, it's important to be on top of all elements of the project - the research, the characterisation - and as a writer of historical fiction, everything must be as accurate as possible. For example, I even choose names for my characters from lists of birth and christening records from the specific country and in the correct century. But the wonderful thing about writing, as opposed to producing, is that for many months at a time, it's just you and the story - no one else is involved; so the opportunity for mistakes or stress are severely reduced. Perhaps that's part of the reason I enjoy it. Of course, the whole copy editing process is a nightmare. Somehow, however many editors go through your work, or however many times you read and check your manuscript, a mistake always seems to get through the net. I hate that.
9. I am a rebel.
I am basically not very good at being told what to do, and never have been. I think rebels are born, not made. I was definitely born questioning things. I never took anything at face value and learned pretty early on to challenge authority. I'm not rude… at least I don't think I am, but I don't automatically believe someone is right because they are in a position of authority over me. I am cynical too, and drive my children mad with trying to teach them not to trust everyone they meet. My son went travelling in the Far East last year and I tried to pass on my anxiety about being wary of strangers. He thought I was exaggerating. But one night, he was approached by a pretty young woman in the street, who put her arms round him. Five seconds later his mobile phone had gone…
10, I am a frustrated comedian.
When I was young, I worked for two years with Dr Jonathon Miller, the well-known doctor, opera producer, and performer/comedian. I was working for the BBC's Science Department at the time, and Jonathon wrote and presented a thirteen part series called the Body in Question. Part of my job involved collecting him each day from his house in Regents Park, and driving him in my old Morris Minor to the film studios in Ealing. He used to make me laugh so much, improvising sketches, and so on, that I frequently struggled to keep control of the car. He rather generously encouraged my own comedic 'efforts': we occasionally did little 'routines' together for the entertainment of the crew - just spontaneous skits. He told me that I should become a comedian, which was a huge compliment. But I didn't have the courage. But now, looking back I wonder if I missed out somehow. I have often thought of having a go…Maybe one day I will.