Welcome to my website. Here’s a very basic autobiography, but there’s lots more information about my books – how they came about, what inspired them, plots, reviews and so on – if you click onto individual titles. There’s also an extract from “Tulip Fever”, “These Foolish Things” and “In The Dark”. And there’s an Interview, Photos, a Newsletter with the latest developments and events, a page of Contacts, and an email address if you’d like to get in touch and ask me some questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both my parents were writers – my father wrote naval history, biographies and children’s books; my mother wrote and illustrated children’s books. I had three sisters, and we grew up to the sound of typewriters tapping in the veranda, where our parents sat side by side, working. I wasn’t a particularly writerly child, however. I preferred playing with cars and animals. I didn’t like girly things and my hero was William Brown.
I went to Bristol University, worked in publishing for a bit, did some waitressing, taught riding, trained as a teacher, and then got married. In the mid-70s I went to live in Pakistan for two years. After an English upbringing this was incredibly liberating and it was here that I started writing – both articles for Pakistani newspapers and my first novel, “You Must Be Sisters”. This was a coming-of-age, autobiographical novel as was my next, “Close To Home”, which was the story of a mother with small children (by this time I had returned to London , to live in Camden Town, and had a son and daughter).
I then left my own life behind. “A Quiet Drink” is the story of a cosmetics rep with a beautiful but dumb wife, while “Hot Water Man” is set in Karachi: a comedy of manners between East and West, Islam and America. “The Ex-Wives” is a comedy about a boozy actor and his chaotic marital life. “Driving In The Dark” is the story of a coach driver who travels around Britain searching for his unknown son, the result of a one-night stand many years earlier. “Porky” is a spare and rather unsettling novel about incest, set on a pig farm next to Heathrow Airport. In fact, the loss of childhood – through kidnap, divorce, abduction – figures in several more of my novels: “Seesaw”, “Stolen”, “To Have And to Hold”.
I adapted these last three for television – in fact, some of my novels started out as my own TV scripts. I began writing screenplays in the mid-eighties and like moving back and forth, between the interior world of the novel and the conflict-driven life of drama. I also like actors because they call me “darling”, and I try to appear as an extra in my own shows. I wrote a thriller about the movie business called “The Stand-In”, which I scripted as a Hollywood movie, and adapted “Pride And Prejudice” as a film starring Keira Knightley, for which I received a BAFTA nomination. I’ve also adapted Nancy Mitford’s “Love In A Cold Climate” for the BBC and won a Writers Guild Award for my adaptation of Anne Fine’s “Goggle-eyes”. The most recent of my own novels I’ve adapted are “Final Demand”, starring Tamsin Outhwaite – a story of fraud, retribution and reptile-breeding – and “These Foolish Things”, my novel about outsourcing elderly Brits to India, began filming in winter 2007 and was released in 2012 as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.
Art, illusion, doomed love and a tulip bulb are the themes of my first historial novel, “Tulip Fever”. This was inspired by my love of 17th century Dutch painting – in particular, a painting I bought at an auction, a sub-Vermeer interior of a woman getting ready to go out, her servants poised with necklace and glass of wine. I love the stilled drama of paintings by ter Borch and de Hooch, and wanted to step into those rooms. This novel was an extraordinary adventure to write and was bought by Dreamworks. It’s due to be filmed in 2007.
My novel, “In The Dark” is set in 1916, a story about war, meat and sex.
I’ve done quite a bit of journalism and I’ve also been Chairman of the Society of Authors and worked for PEN’s Executive Committee, as well as being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
My children have long since grown up and I live near Hampstead Heath, where I have an allotment and swim in the ponds. I also love biking around London, looking through people’s windows and imagining all the other lives I could have led.