My Writing and Other Lives

Perhaps I was an odd child but I loved being given projects to do at primary school which involved doing research. In those pre-Google days it meant spending Saturday afternoons in our local library, sitting at a table with my nose in a reference book (preferably an old one) and writing pages of notes. Bliss. Then I would finish the day in the children’s section choosing my reading books for that week, which varied between foreign fairy tales and legends – the more sinister and ghoulish the better – and fun books about boarding schools. If I could spend at least part of Sunday sitting behind the settee and delving into my parents’ bookcase, pretending I could read French for Beginners or, more thrillingly, almost reading their old copy of Wuthering Heights, with its evocative black and white photos of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff, then my world was complete.

I don’t know why I didn’t consider writing as a career earlier on. I loved reading and was always filling exercise books bought with my pocket money from Woolworths.   Perhaps my grammar school didn’t suggest it: the creative was regarded with suspicion. Instead, I taught English and Drama in secondary schools and during the summers English as a Foreign Language. I also decided to see if someone might pay me for writing freelance. One summer I’d worked as a chambermaid at a well-known hotel in Park Lane, London. Hard, sweaty work but good money for a penniless student – and what an eye opener! Such stories to tell  – being exposed to by a lusty defence attaché, for instance – and I put  them into a feature for a quality women’s magazine. As it was my first article, and mindful even then of how competitive the writing world was, I thought the chances of it being accepted would be minimal.  So I sent it to another well-known but smaller publication at the same time. The chances of both wanting it were surely non-existent.

Incredibly, they did. Choosing between them wasn’t hard; the bigger magazine was paying what seemed to be a huge amount, so I accepted their offer and then turned down – politely and gratefully – the other, hoping I hadn’t burned my boats with them. Of course, the day job continued. I loved teaching English at all levels, but especially the two extremes: A-level and those at the other end of the ability spectrum. But I didn’t want to do it all my life. So I married and moved to Gibraltar, from where, during the spring and summer months, we moved around the Mediterranean running private yachts for wealthy owners. Fascinating times, providing rich material for articles,  often written between negotiating protection money with local mafia chiefs and trying to avoid floating mines off the coast of Albania. I was even offered a job by the British editor of a (now famous) magazine which catered for the growing ex-pat community along the Costa del Sol. But it didn’t fit in with our plans, so the offer was reluctantly declined.

During a fifth year away, I decided I wanted to become a solicitor and my life changed again. I moved to La Linea in Spain, to a tiny house with lizards on the patio, and walked daily over the border into Gibraltar. I started studying law long-distance while teaching English to Spanish adults and GCSE English to the British Army, in a classroom at the top of the Rock that looked across to Africa. I still wrote features and presented them on a regular radio slot for the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS). One of my fans was the then Governor of Gibraltar: I loved getting feedback.

After returning to England and remarrying, I completed my training and qualified as a solicitor, eventually specialising in employment law: interesting because it is people-orientated, and satisfying because it demands a different set of writing skills.  Freelance work had to take a back seat for a while, but I enjoyed the opportunity of being the regular “legal eagle” on a local radio station. Getting my first feature for The Times published spurred me on again and I wrote my first non-fiction book, The Voice From the Garden; I was delighted when it was long listed for the New Angle Prize for Literature.  Later I was taken on by literary agent Andrew Lownie, and in August 2013 I became a full-time author.  My second non-fiction book, Duchesses: Living in 21st Century Britain was published in September 2014, and my third, Princess: The Early Life of Queen Elizabeth II was published in June 2018 in the USA and in August in the UK.  I also write historical features for newspapers, magazines and websites and I’m a member of the Society of Authors and the Biographers’ Club.