I was born into an international family with both parents being wartime refugees. My older sister and I were London-born and grew up as London kids in a sea of foreign accents. We went on LCC scholarships to what my mother disparagingly called a 'dame school' - but sent us there anyway. Good, solid and procuring the academic results it touted, it was extremely boring (I suspect it may still be) and I was in trouble a lot of the time. After 'O' levels we both went to do our 'A's' at the French Lycee because it was the only school where we could take Russian - our mother's mother tongue. My sister went off to Oxford to study Russian. I didn't get in, so I went to Edinburgh and studied Chinese instead, transferring to the School of Oriental and African Studies after a year. I married a fellow student and, it being 1968, marched and demonstrated in favour of, or against, the usual issues. We edited a magazine together, Afrasian, and our son was born soon after we'd taken our finals. We moved to Sussex where my husband worked at the Institute of Development Studies while I grew vegetables and fretted over the lack of an intellectual life. Our daughter was born a year later.

In the late 70s we moved back to London and I started working for the BBC World Service, as a staff writer to begin with, and then making current affairs documentaries. My husband and I split up and a couple of years later I married a colleague from the Czech Service. We had a daughter to whom her father spoke Czech while I kept, mostly, to English. This worked in that she grew up with two languages, but to my older children it was more annoying than I was ready to acknowledge. Our large house filled with hairy Czech dissidents who drank a lot of beer and wine, and talked all night. Some of them later became parts of the post-communist government. My older daughter's friends would gather there and sleep on the floor wherever there was a space and we grew accustomed to cooking large stews for unpredictable numbers of diners.

Mine was a varied job in a BBC department uniquely blessed with good managers, so I stayed at the World Service for near on 25 years. What could have been better? My colleagues were people I would have sought out for company and conversation; it seemed as if the BBC was paying for my continuing education; I travelled. We made programmes on the communist world, many on various aspects of Islam,  and on terrorism. But at the time there was also room in the schedules (no longer possible) for a 13-part series on civilisation, from ancient Sumeria to the present day. One of the most interesting projects for the making of it was a series of features on the 'Stans of Central Asia, and how well they were coping with the independence that had been thrust on them five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The very last programmes I made were a history of Iraq, broadcast at the end of 2002. Then, because I wanted to write The Officer's Daughter, which I knew would take a lot of time and research, I decided my journalism was over. I had written my previous novels on Sundays, working out what I was going to do on the three mile walk to work - the only time of day when I had my thoughts to myself.

Now I divide my time between writing and working as a volunteer for the Citizens' Advice Bureau, which is an excellent corrective to sitting alone in front of a screen, communing with oneself.


My thanks to Debra Rapp for the photograph. I detest having my photograph taken but she made the experience bearable.