Oxford and Italy – two words that have magical associations and not just for me. I wanted to go to university in the first but it was Cambridge that offered me a place. My first trip to Italy was as a 14-year-old.
Now I live less than twenty miles from the city of Oxford and my daughter, who did go to university there and never came back, lives half an hour away. As for Italy, I go there at least once a year and sometimes as often as four times. I speak Italian and go to a class (in Oxford) once a week in Italian literature.
I was born in a little town in Hampshire which grew up around the railways. My father worked for the railways, as did all the men of the family on both sides. Just before I was three, we moved to London, where my father had a job in an office under the ground at Waterloo (which could only be reached by a maze of subterranean passages). It was quite magical visiting him there, like tracking the Minotaur in his labyrinth – though my father was no monster.
I had two big sisters who could read and I taught myself how to do that mysterious and wonderful thing before I went to school. At Primary School I wrote plays which my friends performed in assembly. When I passed the 11+, I went on to a scholarship to an independent girls’ school in Dulwich — which was a big culture shock. I stopped writing for a long time.
After I did my degree (in English Literature) at Cambridge, I took a diploma in linguistics at University College London. In 1970 I started writing my first book, which was published in 1975 as White Magic. Since then, I have written over ninety books for children and teenagers, including the picture book Amazing Grace , the Stravaganza series of fantasy novels and historical novels, like The Falconer’s Knot and Troubadour.
My husband is Stephen Barber, who is half-Indian, and we have three daughters. The eldest one, Rhiannon Lassiter, is a published writer of Science Fiction/Fantasy. The second is a theatre producer (Rebecca) and the third (Jessica) is an architect.
We moved from London to a big old converted barn in West Oxfordshire in early 2001 and lots of full-length novels have been written in my lovely new study there, which its green and white, with French windows opening on to the garden. I can watch the birds on the bird table and rescue them if they are attacked by any of our three Burmese cats.
Here is a short film introducing my three cats.
And here you can watch Anne Rooney and me talking about books, The Awfully Big Blog Adventure, coffee and becoming mad Italian grannies: