I owe my first publishing break to Beryl Bainbridge. I was doing a creative writing course at The Arvon Foundation (which I thoroughly recommend for serious would-be writers) and one of the tutors was Beryl. She recommended me to an agent, and my first novel was published. It went on to be shortlisted for the Dillons Prize.

Jane Bailey

Jane Bailey

I can’t catch a ball. This may be because I have been very short-sighted since the age of seven, although it wasn’t spotted straight away. No one ever really believes quite how bad I am at ball games until they see it. I still feel a deep sense of letting the side down if asked to join in something just for fun involving a ball and teams!

Drawing was my first love. I always enjoyed writing and drawing, but all my early stories were illustrated. I still love life-drawing, although I’m a bit rusty these days.

My mother was a miner’s daughter from South Wales, so we spent a lot of our childhood playing on the tips. My father’s family were from Cornwall; his grandfather was the coxswain of the lifeboat in Polkerris, and his grandmother worked as a servant at ‘Menabilly’, the house which became ‘Manderley’ in Daphne DuMaurier’s ‘Rebecca’.

My Cornish Grandfather used to sit us on his knee and tell us stories about bears who lived near Bodmin in Cornwall. He would draw us pictures of the bears as he spoke. I still have a treasured bear called Bodmin.

I was the first ever female student at Queen’s College in Oxford. Although there were seventeen of us that first year of taking women, when I went up early to look for accommodation as a new postgraduate, the porter wrote me a note saying, ‘You might like to know you are the first female student of the Queen’s College ever to spend the night in college.’

I taught French and Italian for many years before I was published. I’ve tried my hand at man jobs, from working in a library to illustrating. My early summer jobs included working in a plastics factory. One day, when operating the bottle-filling machine filling five-litre plastic bottles with washing up liquid, I accidentally filled one twice and was covered from head to foot in green slime. I foamed for days afterwards.

I’ve never been good at spelling. My English essays at school were a mess of red biro. I lived through a period when we weren’t supposed to be taught spelling and grammar, but were just meant to ‘absorb’ it, and I didn’t. I’m better at French and Italian grammar than I am at English grammar. Still, since becoming an author, I have definitely started to absorb it!

For the last few years I’ve been writer-in-residence for First Story, a charity that takes creative writing into secondary schools serving low-income areas. In recent years Cheltenham Festivals have linked with the charity to become Cheltenham Festivals’ First Story to serve similar schools in Gloucestershire. At the end of the year I edit an anthology of the students’ work and it’s published with a cover from an Illustration student from Gloucestershire University. I’ve really enjoyed this work and been very moved by it. Teenagers who actually volunteer to stay behind after school and write – that’s really something! This year I feel privileged to be writer-in-residence for Gloucestershire Hospitals Education Service, and will be tutoring creative writing to young people who are too ill to go to school. There will be an officially printed anthology of their work at the end of the year, which is really exciting.

My favourite novel is probably ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, because it tackles prejudice at so many different levels, and because it is so well put together. I like characters we tend to hear about long before we see them, if at all: Boo Radley in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’; the Great Gatsby, who doesn’t show up until nearly a third of the way through the story; Du Maurier’s Rebecca; and, of course, Captain Mainwaring’s wife, Elizabeth, in ‘Dad’s Army’, who we never get to see. Amongst the many writers I admire immensely are Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Tyler, William Trevor, Michael Frayn, Carys Bray and Carol Shields.

I am extremely untidy. Of course, I don’t really see it myself, but I’m told I am. However, I always know exactly where things are at the bottom of an unruly heap!

I love sheep – all sorts, but especially Cotswold Lions, Herdwick and Soays. And lambs, well, don’t get me started! Spring hasn’t sprung unless I hold a new-born lamb. They manage to put in an appearance quite often in my novels.

Jane Bailey is the author of What Was Rescued (Lake Union, a division of Amazon Publishing) and will be appearing at Cheltenham Literature Festival on 12 October (www.cheltenhamfestivals.com)