I write because it has never occurred to me not to. My father had a small library; I have been an English teacher throughout my working life; and from early childhood have been surrounded by books. I find it impossible not to emulate what I have read. If it is true that we are what we eat, it is equally true that we write what we have read. My reading habits are wide and indiscriminate. I love diaries and letters, fictions of all periods, but nineteenth century ones especially and Trollope in particular. Among historical novelists I admire Rose Tremain, George Macdonald Fraser, Penelope Fitzgerald and, above all, the now-almost-forgotten Zoe Oldenbourg.
I have written a number of plays, a musical (which has been performed) and a film script (which has been filmed). In recent years I have concentrated on fiction and in particular on trying to revive what I call ‘portfolio fiction’ – a form which probably began with the Odyssey – in which a long narrative emerges out of a series of short ones. Thus Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium is the story of an excursion to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in which all the excursionists tell tales and in so doing create a panorama of the age as well as a large-scale drama in which they all play a part.
For me writing is as much a tactile activity as an imaginative one. I am unusual among authors in that I write with a pen or, more usually, with a pencil. I like to measure my progress in the number of sharpenings: an average day contains four, a good one six. I love the moment when the pencil gets so short you can no longer hold it. Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium consumed a five-pack of Staedtler HBs. In my current project (see Other Projects) I am nearly at the end of my first pencil.