Pene­lope Lively

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

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - MY BOOKSHELF -

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.

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