Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
We had books at home but I wouldn’t consider my parents as having been “great readers”. I remember a long, low bookcase in the sitting room with the Encyclopedia Britannica gathering dust on the bottom shelf. The books were mainly non-fiction — illustrated tomes about art or classical Greece — and Readers’ Digest. I don’t remember my parents reading novels but I do remember some tut-tutting about the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — a book that certainly wouldn’t have been their bedtime reading. We lived in a school — a boy’s preparatory school — which my headmaster father founded in Richmond after the war (then mainly a place of bedsits and residential hotels) and there was an interest in learning but it wasn’t an intellectual environment. Most of my early childhood seemed to be spent sitting at the top of the school stairs watching life unfold below me, with small boys lining up outside my father’s study to be admonished (unusually for the time my father disapproved of corporal punishment). Being able to play in the classrooms and in a large garden (climbing trees and playing cricket) during the holidays was a bonus. I went to school in London and then on to Edinburgh University where I studied politics and began to think about things such as class and race and feminism, certainly not part of the domestic discourse.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No — but I did briefly and many years ago work at Heinemann’s in the Rights department where I had to type formulaic letters giving other publishers permission to use extracts from works (Graham Greene novels mostly) for which Heinemann held the rights. A fearsome boss had her office one floor below and an even more intimidating secretary shared my office. I left after one year — and went into journalism where I spent the rest of my working life. I was on the Observer for many years where I was features editor of the Magazine; my last job was on the obituaries desk of the Guardian. I published my first Papillote Press books when I was still at the Guardian.