Sophie Herself

There are dangers in writers telling you about themselves. How many romance readers who absolutely love Georgette Heyer's books would have been comfortable with her as a house guest? So, while what I say here will be true, it won't be the whole truth.

What makes a writer? Well, probably genes, education and... something else. What made me a writer? This is my best shot at explaining it. So far, anyway.

On the genes front, I come from a long line of agricultural labourers and con men. I'm not sure, where the con men came from. That's the trouble with con men. Their stories are dazzling - but they shift.

Sophie in the country

Sophie resting after trying her hand at being an agricultural labourer

I know about the agricultural labourers, though. They raised a family of 13 in a two room cottage. They had five children baptised at a time. They rose in the world and kept pubs and village stores. They died and were buried in village churchyards. They feuded like mad and, all the time, they told stories about each other. Crime fiction, largely. And themselves. Those were the heroic sagas. And, of course, romance.

Education is where you find it. I loved primary school, went through secondary school in a fog of panic about all those rules I was somehow supposed to understand as well as obey. By the time I got to university I was ready to start learning.

Enacting The Rivals

From a party at which we read The Rivals. I was the boring friend, but with rather a lot of soi disant 18th century fruit punch taken...

I've been learning ever since, usually when I didn't expect to. About sailing the Mediterranean (The Innocent and the Playboy) from an eighty year old renegade who is probably the most attractive man I will ever meet. About the Andes (Midnight Wedding) from a homesick Peruvian when we were stuck on the tarmac waiting to take off at Tallinn airport. About the terrors of organising a formal wedding (The Wedding Effect) from my best friend. About classroom politics (Catching Katie) from the woman in the supermarket queue.

And reading, of course. When I was small, my mother couldn't bear reading aloud. So she taught me to read at an appallingly precocious age. In the fullness of time she gave me Jane Austen and 'Gone With the Wind'. My father gave me Dickens. I found Shakespeare for myself. A brilliant teacher gave me Tolkien and Elizabeth Bowen. Friends started to recommend - 'The Catcher in the Rye', 'I Capture the Castle', 'The Day of the Triffids'. The local library was just five minutes walk away. By the time I was ten, I was a twelve book a week girl. Given a following wind and the electricity bills paid, I still am.

So what about the something else? I'm really not sure what it is. Maybe it's to do with wishing you could know. People are slippery. If you write you can get a handle on them - well, on your characters - for just a while at least. And there are conflicting truths, too. My father said, 'We have to help other people, we are all brothers.' My mother said, 'Be careful of other people, they bite.' I was an only child. I said 'What if they're both right...?' and wrote stories.