I grew up in a sailing town on the Isle of Wight. I lived in London for a long time and worked for lots of big companies where people often shouted quite loudly. Now I live in Suffolk with my husband and two small sons. I like lots of things that don’t seem to fit together very well and I daydream too much.
Did you have a role model growing up?
I was surrounded by women who had to earn a living when I was growing up: most of whom were employed by my parents (as was I from the age of thirteen). That experience shaped me and made me the person I am today. I think it’s the sheer volume of work and responsibility they all shouldered that still sticks with me. Their work ethic was incredible, because it had to be. There are so many women from those years to choose from; my mum herself – I should say – never rested, Jeanette had eight children and thought nothing of toiling away until three in the morning and Sybil was in her sixties by the time I met her (we used to do the washing up together while she told me about her childhood in Newcastle before the war). Looking back I can’t believe how old-fashioned it sounds. But all of them could see that times were changing. I can’t count the number of times I was told to study hard at school, get a career of my own and be self-reliant. So I did.
Who do you look up to now?
Lots of people who are calmer and more gracious than me.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
By the time I was eight I wanted to be an author. Sadly it took me another thirty years to make good on that ambition.
Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?
As well as the women from my childhood there have been other less positive influences along the way. It came as a shock to discover, early on in my career, that some women have confused showing ‘leadership qualities’ with being rude, manipulative and intemperate. It brought out an odd competitiveness in me: to succeed without behaving like that. I think sometimes it’s as important to know what you won’t do, as well as what you’d like to achieve.
Who is your favourite fictional character? And why?
That’s such a difficult question. I have lots of characters rattling around my head from other people’s books. Today I’m going to say Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh for his officiousness, or perhaps Grandmother in George’s Marvelous Medicine because she’s so vile. Oh I don’t know…
What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?
Well there was lots of wearing sweeping black skirts and dark make up (fortunately I was anemic so I didn’t need white foundation to look pale). My teenage years were a bit fraught. But I think for all of us it’s a difficult time. I coped by surrounding myself with good friends and concentrating on school.
If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?
I’m still not sure I’ve got any suitable advice for anyone. Possibly “things will get better” and “don’t throw away that black skirt: you’ll wish you still had it one day.”
Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what's the area you most like reading/writing about?
The issue I’d most like to read about, but don’t, is why female equality no longer seems to be a desirable goal. We have come an incredibly long way since the days when my mum had to leave the large insurance company she worked for when she got married: because it was written into her contract as standard practice. But we still live in a country in which women are consistently paid nearly 20% less than men for doing the same job and where our Home Secretary talks on national radio of a ‘sliding scale of rape’. That concerns me: I would like my sons to grow up in an
improving world. And it worries me that we don’t really write, or talk, about it very much. [Gets off soap box].
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you for reading this!
Thank you so much Melanie for giving such wonderful answers! The Grandmother from George's Marvellous Medicine? Fantastic! :)