We had no literary pretentions as a family. They were shocked and bemused when I got into Cambridge to read Classics. When I met my first boyfriend and subsequently husband at age 18, my parents didn’t like him at all, and I fear the feeling was mutual. Not that any of us had even heard of the Nicolsons, or Sissinghurst Castle, or the Bloomsbury Group or Bohemia. It was another world to us. But this other world was exciting to me. Even my mother’s admonition that I wouldn’t be having children if I insisted on marrying into that family because they were all homosexual, didn’t put me off.
My mother would have loved to have been born a decade later: at heart, she was wild and free and should have been a teenager bopping to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Instead she found herself a traditional 1950’s housewife, baking cakes and being a full-time mum, a role she didn’t enjoy much.
I was born into a middle-class family in Windsor, 1960.
We weren’t completely run-of-the-mill, but almost.
I have now been married for twenty-three years to a surgeon and violinist. I am serenaded every morning at dawn in the depths of West Sussex. On the whole this is wonderful. But the truth is, sometimes I’d prefer a lie-in.
There was no such thing as ‘proper’ conversation, and never a moment’s silence or repressed emotion. As a consequence, I have never been a ‘private’ person. I spill out everywhere, though not, I hope, in an egoistic way: rather to express at first hand the highs and lows of being a human being.
That marriage ended when I was thirty. By then I had three sons. When I married again two years later, I had another two sons. I am more mother, therefore, than professional. Even when I worked with young offenders in my twenties, I treated them with the love and care I did my own children, inviting them back home for meals with the family. It was their stories, more than any body of literature, which gave me the confidence to tell my own.
There was nothing prim about my mum, and she always said what she felt about everything and everyone.
I embraced this new life of mine. These were my formative years: around me as I write this are pieces of antique, dark oak furniture, coloured glass, old rugs and heavy tapestry curtains. How odd it is to think of my taste – which I think of as my own – so directly influenced by that of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.