One of the reasons I became a biographer is that other peoples’ lives are much more interesting than my own! Though it’s often thought that the life of a writer must be glamorous and exciting, for most of the time it is just slogging away: researching, reading, writing and rewriting. I usually spend at least three years on each of my major books (though The Brontës took five) and I divide my time into two years researching and one year writing. Apart from writing the occasional article or review and contributing to radio and television programmes, all my effort goes into my books. Unless a deadline is looming, when there are never enough hours in the day, I work normal office hours: the rest of my time is devoted to my family, especially my husband, son and daughter. I try not to let my work intrude on them but holidays are often spent retracing the footsteps of the people I write about – you can imagine how much my children enjoy this but you can’t begin to understand your subject unless you know the landscapes and places they knew and lived in. I’d written the first draft of Agincourt before I’d followed Henry V’s campaign trail from England to France and back again: after I’d done it I rewrote the book.
I am a Yorkshirewoman born and bred and, unlike so many writers who feel the need to uproot themselves for the bright lights of the city, I have never felt the lure of London. I still live in Yorkshire by choice – and it’s a completely different life to that of many other writers. I’m conscious when I attend literary festivals that most other writers seem to know each other and move in the same London circles, whereas I’m necessarily an outsider. This has its advantages – not least with subjects like the Brontës and Wordsworth who also lived in the north – but it can sometimes mean feeling cut off as I can rarely make a special trip to London just to accept an invitation to attend a lecture or a book launch. The saving grace is that this does keep my feet on the ground. Like Charlotte Brontë, for the most part I walk invisible and that’s how I’d like to keep it! It’s wonderful when my books achieve success but for myself I’d rather remain anonymous.