By the time I started school I could already read (thanks Mum), so I found the Janet and John books which every British kid learned with back then really boring. In the class library I found the I want to be (a secretary, a nurse etc) series. Oh, how impossibly glamorous the world of the air hostess sounded to wee Scottish lass. That’s what I wanted to be.
Enid Blyton’s boarding school world sounded even more glamorous though, when I first discovered it. The Naughtiest Girl in the School was the first book I bought for myself, and I was hooked from the start. All my pocket money was saved up as I worked my way through the series, followed by Mallory Towers and St Clare’s. Rather bizarrely, the stories made me feel deprived. Why was I not sent off with my teddy and my tuck box aged ten, to a draughty converted stately home with a swimming pool? Why did my school uniform not include a straw hat? And most importantly, why did we not play lacrosse – whatever that was?
I’ve always obsessively identified with whatever I happen to be reading. Heidi made me want to climb mountains and eat roasted cheese, a delicacy subtly different and more exotic from the cheese on toast I got for supper. The Secret Garden and Tom’s Midnight Garden were the start of a lifelong love of growing things, and of course Little Women made me want to be a writer.
But not quite straight away. Working my way through Sue Barton’s career in Helen Dore Boylston series, from Student Nurse to Staff Nurse by way of Rural Nurse, Visiting Nurse and various others (Sue didn’t seem to stick long at any one job), I dumped Jo March and decided I’d rather be like Sue, wooed by a dreamy doctor in the brief intervals between saving lives. Then I discovered James Herriot, and realised I wanted to be a vet. Needless to say, that ambition also went by the wayside, but my signed copy of Vets Might Fly is still one of my most treasured possessions.
My first romance was a Barbara Cartland (from my Nana’s collection). My second and third and twentieth romances were Barbara Cartland’s too, read under the covers, and never admitted to, naturally. I never really fancied being one of Bab’s heroines, I wasn’t really the fainting and shrieking kind, but in my mid-teens I read my first Georgette Heyer, not a Regency but one of her 1920s crime stories. I became a flapper then, and everything was ‘brill’ and ‘fab’ and ‘tremendous’.
I bought Rebecca with the book token I got for winning the school geography prize, and I’d say that the opening line of this is what really made me want to write. I’ve read it over and over since, and the first Mrs de Winter’s ghost inspired some of the story behind my last book, Rake with a Frozen Heart. Around about the same time as I discovered du Maurier, I watched the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s Poldark, fell in love with Robin Ellis as Ross, and read every one of the books – they were the first ones I took out of the library on an adult ticket, aged sixteen. And that was the start of my fascination with historical romance.
I was never tall enough or pretty enough to be an air hostess (yes, back then you had to be both). I was too squeamish to be a nurse or a vet. My training as a lawyer and twenty years in computing were absolutely nothing to do with any childhood reading. But eventually I saw the light, remembered Jo March and Winston Graham, wrote my own historical romance and now – well, now, I’m proof that dreams really do come true.
Thank you to Cheryl for inviting me along. I have a signed copy of my latest book, Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah, to give away. Just leave a comment AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS for a chance to win.