The author, 84, won the Man Booker Prize for her novel Moon Tiger, and has written 57 books, both for adults and for children. She lives in London
I grew up in Egypt
during the Second World War and was homeeducated until I was 12, when my family moved to England. I went to the most philistine school in Seaford, Sussex – the teachers would send you to the library as a punishment!
I was very fond of Arthur Ransome’s novels,
when I lived in Egypt. They fascinated me as they were about a mysterious world that was green and wet and rainy, whereas I Swallows and Amazons, was used to my world of camels and palm trees.
I studied history
at the University of Oxford, which was an absolute pleasure. Since then I’ve loved reading non-fiction, particularly books about history and archaeology.
I started writing in my 30s
when my children, Josephine and Adam (both now in their 50s), started school. I began with children’s books. Several are still in print: the best known is probably The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. I never felt that you had to write differently for children.
Winning the Man Booker Prize
in 1987 for my novel Moon Tiger was a surprise. It’s set in the Second World War and is told from multiple points of view. I hadn’t expected to win.
The idea for my new book
came after I went to an exhibition about Pompeii at the British Museum in London. I was fascinated by the image of a rather odd-looking bird, so I asked one of the curators and was told it was a swamp hen. The story evolved from there. I wrote a short story about it and this became a collection of short stories, The Purple Swamp Hen.
The process of writing
The Purple Swamp Hen felt very different from my previous books. Writing a novel can feel like hacking away at a rock face – and it takes two or three years – whereas short-story writing is much faster. Either it arrives or it doesn’t.