1) I was brought up aboard, in Germany and then Hong Kong and Singapore, as my dad was a civil engineer working for the British government. I arrived back in the UK at Tilbury Docks on a grey, rainy day in February. I don’t think I ever recovered from the shock! I felt like a complete outsider, and found it hard to make friends at first. Perhaps I never fully adjusted, because I now live in East London where I am surrounded by people from different backgrounds and cultures – and love it.

Maggie Hamand

Maggie Hamand

2) I was a complete rebel at school and almost got expelled from my first grammar school for constant misbehaviour. I think this was because I’d attended ten different schools, often arriving half-way through a term or year, and the rules were different in every one so I was always being caught out. I missed out on a lot of education, too. I do remember feeling particularly aggrieved when one school report said: ‘Physics. 91 per cent. Margaret must not distract other members of the class’ – as if I only did well by putting everyone else off!

3) My great love was English literature, but my school wanted more girls to study science. I had an inspirational chemistry teacher who encouraged me to go to university to study biochemistry, and I then became a medical journalist. Later the spiritual side of my life became important and I decided to study for an MA in theology. I often feel I am one of the few people who is able to talk coherently and sensibly about both religion and science. I actually don’t really see a conflict – but while I am a practicing Christian, I am not a fundamentalist, I’m a religious pluralist who thinks that all faiths are equally valid and celebrate our human diversity.

4) I’m a lifelong migraine sufferer. They started when I was a teenager and I experienced terrifying and amazing visual auras and all kinds of strange sensations which made me fear I had a brain tumour or was going mad, so I didn’t dare tell anyone about them. I remember the intense relief when a doctor diagnosed what was wrong after a particularly bad attack. The pain can feel like someone taking a pneumatic drill to my skull, and I have on occasion ended up at the GP surgery for morphine injections. Migraine is not just a headache! However, becoming aware of my triggers and avoiding them, and finally finding a medication that helped abort an attack, has made all the difference. I’ve also been gluten free for twenty years as that helped – it’s much easier to do this now than when I started.

5) I had been writing for years without much reward when someone told me about a competition called the World One-Day Novel Cup where writers had to write a novel in 24 hours at the Groucho Club under exam conditions. I put my name into the hat and got picked, and unbelievably, I won! Winning the prize was rewarded with a life membership of the Groucho Club and a book deal with Michael Joseph/Penguin for my first novel, The Resurrection of the Body, and a great deal of media attention. When I ever feel depressed about my writing, I remember that time and feel a warm glow of satisfaction that I did have my ‘fifteen minutes of fame.’

6) I’m learning French with my bilingual grandson. As he’s grown, I’ve learned French baby language, read French books for toddlers and learned all kinds of phrases and expressions that I’d never learned through more formal French lessons. I’ve even discovered we can watch a lot of children’s TV in French on YouTube! My husband and I love France, and have a house in Normandy, which makes a wonderful writing retreat, and a great place for all the family to get together.

7)After many years of voracious reading, my favourite novel is still Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I first read when I was just sixteen. It has everything in it – passion, philosophy, history, morality, birth, death, and a host of complex characters you really believe in. I go back to it again and again, especially my old Louise and Aylmer Maude translation which I still prefer to all the others. It would definitely be my Desert Island Book.

RELATED: How being a mother has changed my writing by Gina Blaxill, author of You Can Trust Me 

Virgin & Child by Maggie Hamand is published by Barbican Press and available now in paperback at £8.99