Family & Ancestry


Family & Writing

Q. Did your knowledge of your family history help you in writing books whose stories cover many generations?

A. Yes. Specifically, it may have helped that my father was almost the youngest of a large family. So I spent much time with older uncles and aunts who'd been born in the nineteenth century. Not only that, they had been brought up abroad, by parents whose ideas of England came from an earlier generation still. So the atmosphere in which I was accustomed to finding myself dated back almost to Napoleonic times. When I research people living two hundred years ago, it's more like remembering than learning. Add that to what I know of my own family history and the histories that many kind readers have sent me of their families, and one builds up a big framework in the imagination of how people lived through historical events.

Q. A framework in which to place your historical research.

A. Certainly that. But also a sense of the great, continuous sweep of the past, of lives to which one is connected. It may be a rather primitive thing, but I can't help a strange warm feeling, as if I'm living in a world full of echoes, and that I can feel my ancestors inside me. And -this is certainly a trick of the imagination - but even writing about the distant past, I feel as if I am back where I have been before. I can't help that either. These are deep well springs of the imagination.

Did You Know?
Only one man was allowed to live in the royal palace of China, known as the Forbidden City: the emperor. All the other inhabitants were either women - wives, concubines or servants - or the famous palace eunuchs. Nearly all eunuchs were castrated when they were still only boys. But there were just a few who chose to be castrated after they became men, and even had children of their own. They did it for the money. 




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