1. Collecting antiques: Chinese porcelain, Japanese sculptures, French and Italian glass. You will often find me rummaging in flea markets and second-hand shops, hoping to discover a treasure. My father was a great collector. He took me on his hunting escapades and to auctions, which I found most exciting. He was a subscriber to the Collectors Guide and Apollo magazines. I spent hours reading about beautiful artworks from around the world.
2. Fishing: Although I do not have much time for fishing nowadays, I am a keen fisherwoman. I grew up in Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, and both of my parents loved fishing. Some of my fondest memories are of us driving at dawn to a place called Al Maadeya, a channel between Lake Edku and the Mediterranean Sea at Abu Kir Bay. We would spend the morning fishing, sitting on a rickety bridge, with the train rails at the top, a few metres away. In the evening we either deep-fried or broiled our catch. Delicious!
3. Fascination with storms: Both my childhood home in Alexandria and my house in France have a view over the Mediterranean. In both places I have watched nature unleash her might in the most fantastic way… a sort of opera of the skies, the instruments determined to sing out the trees, the waves and the flowers in the garden as their percussion. Even the rain comes in orchestrated rhythm, and the clouds? The clouds twirl like perfect ballet dancers, each dressed in windswept grey. They dance to the roar of heaven’s drum; the lightning is their stage. I have described storms in three of my books, Burning Embers, Legacy and Concerto, yet I don’t think my descriptions could ever truly do justice to nature.
4. Cooking: I love cooking using the various produce of our vegetable garden. Jams, chutneys and stewed fruit for the freezer used for crumbles in winter. I also like to try dishes I have tasted on my travels, some of which are described in my books: stuffed vine leaves, dolmades, in Aphrodite’s Tears; big rice balls called arancini in The Echoes of Love; and bassboussa, a semolina and coconut dessert, in Song of the Nile.
5. Music: I have more than 3,000 songs and music from all over the world on my iPod. I was exposed to music from an early age, having piano and ballet lessons. I always listen to music while I am writing and often choose a style traditional to the country where my romantic story is set.
6. Travelling: I am compulsively nomadic. Countries are the main source of inspiration for my books. I draw on the richness of their people, their history and all they have to offer in the way of cuisine, language and customs to create fabulous places where my characters can meet and fall in love.
7. Inability to travel light: Whenever I travel and wherever my destination, there is always a shockingly long row of suitcases by the front door. In this day and age that is a real challenge. Thank God for iPads and downloads, so at least I don’t need to add paperbacks to my list of ‘have to take with me’.
I love travelling. Even though I adore my home, sometimes I think I’m at my best when I’m far away, out of my comfort zone, somewhere completely new. It brings out my braver side and my writer’s brain does a little happy dance at all the new experiences. Some of my favourite travels include Mexico, Egypt, Israel and of course, Italy. The last place I visited was Stockholm. I recently renewed my passport, as a gesture of optimism that the current climate will improve, and now it’s in my desk drawer, waiting for adventures…