I was born in Gothenburg Sweden into a family of readers and
writers. My father is a newspaper editor and columnist, as is
my brother. My mother, who stayed at home looking after the family,
furnished the walls of every room with shelves full of books.
We were a family that read and discussed and whereas there were
restrictions about what we were allowed to watch on TV, and comic
books were discouraged, books were a different matter; basically,
the rule was that my brother and I could read whatever we could
reach. (It was a happy day when, standing on a chair, I got hold
of Fanny Hill.)
Ours was a liberal and tolerant household but some sins, I
had imprinted on me, were beyond the pale, book burning and censorship
of the written word were two of them. Hanging on his wall at
his office at the newspaper my father had a quote from Voltaire.
Translated from French into Swedish and then by me, into English,
it went something like this: 'I may well not agree with your
opinion, but I will defend to the death your right to state it.'
Growing up I was pretty well the standard embryo writer - you
know the kind? Prone to daydreaming, constantly reading, feeling
as if I were on the outside looking in, finding the world of
books more relevant than the 'real' world I lived in.
Aged nineteen I married a British naval officer and moved to
England. Before the move I had had just one year at university
so, arriving here, I had no idea of what I was going to do with
my life. But not for long as my son was born the following year
and three years after that, my daughter. Life as a naval wife
was a mix of periods of loneliness and periods of great fun and
adventure. But as we settled in the Hampshire countryside, having
decided that following the fleet was not so practical with two
school age children, I began to think about writing. I had always
been a great 'trier outer' of things, and it has to be said,
also a great quitter, but almost the minute I sat down to write
I felt as if I had come home. I had never kept a diary, not for
longer than a week anyway (although I bought many, especially
those which had a little tiny gold key) or written stories as
a child- thought them up yes, but written them down no - but
here I was, feeling as if I had walked straight through a doorway
marked, Life's Work.
Of course, as the weeks and months became years I realised
that it would be much more of a struggle to persuade the world
(other than my family who were hugely supportive) that I was
a writer than it had been convincing myself. But finally, when
I was thirty-five, my novel Guppies
For Tea, a story about growing
old and fighting back, was accepted for publication. Several
other publishers had turned it down saying no one was interested
in reading about old people. Luckily, as it turns out, they were
wrong. Even so, if it had not been for the help of my friend
the writer Elizabeth
Buchan, and that of Hilary
Johnson of The New Writers' Scheme, whose interest
in, and support of new writing went well beyond that which was
purely romantic, I might never have been published. This taught
me that luck and the goodwill and support of others is essential
in the writing business as in so much else.
Oddly enough, instead of feeling the euphoria I had expected
once my dream of being a published author had come true, I went
into a kind of prolonged sulk. I spent many hours thinking up
plans for how to minimise the humiliations I was sure would follow
publication, including working out how many copies of my own
book I could afford to buy up and stash away in the garage.
As it turned out, Guppies
For Tea, was rather a lucky book.
It was picked for the first W.H. Smith's Fresh Talent promotion,
ensuring nationwide review coverage, massive distribution and
the kind of support most new writers can only dream of. Following
that the book was short-listed for The Sunday Express Book of
the Year and after that it was serialised on Woman's Hour. As
one acquaintance at the time said, 'Goodness, I suppose now we'll
have to stop patronising you.' (Well no actually, writers, especially
women writers, are always patronised by someone ... it's part
of the deal.)
Guppies For Tea was also published overseas, in the US, Canada,
South Africa, Germany, Poland, Holland, and of course, Sweden.
There especially, I'm asked about the fact that I write in English.
But I never have much to say about it, other than that it seemed
the natural thing to do at the time. Had I sat down to write
for the first time, while on my annual summer holiday in Sweden,
I might well have written my novel in Swedish.
Since writing that first book I have just kept at it. To date
I have written five further novels: A
Rival Creation, The
Purveyor of Enchantment and after moving to London, Frozen
Butterflies and Aphrodite's Workshop For Reluctant Lovers.
We have stories to help us survive the truth. I feel
immensely lucky to be able to earn my living as a writer, so
as long as there are readers I shall carry on, in the words of
George Bernard Shaw, 'applying the seat of my pants to the seat
of my chair.'