As a child, I was crazy about fairy tales, especially stories about queens, princesses and fairies. I used to borrow this illustrated collection again and again from my local children’s library. I never owned a copy, but recently bought a rare copy on eBay. I was surprised at how small the book was compared to my memories of it, but the delicate drawings evoked magical memories. Nowadays I spend a lot of time writing books about queens and princesses.
Henry’s Golden Queen by Lozania Prole
When I was fourteen my mother took me for the first time to an adult library. There I found this book, a novel about Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. I curled up in a chair with it and read and read. I could not put it down. I have to admit that it was not just the historical tale that seduced me, but the sex. Of course, this was 1965, and what seemed exceedingly daring then would appear very tame now, but I was agog: did people really carry on like that in those days? Curiosity sent me hastening to my school library to find out the truth in the history books – and I’ve been finding it out ever since.
Katherine by Anya Seton
I first read this back in the Sixties, when I was fifteen. Four decades later it inspired me to write my biography of Katherine Swynford. It’s a haunting, tenderly drawn love story set against the rich tapestry of England in the age of chivalry, and every sentence is a joy to read. This is one of my all-time favourite historical novels. Anya Seton spent four years researching it; given the sources available to her at the time, it’s a tour de force.
The Town House/The House at Old Vine/The House at Sunset by Norah Lofts
It’s a bit cheeky to choose a trilogy, but these three novels form a continuous story, and they are the most outstanding historical novels that I have ever read. Effectively they recount the history of England, seen through the eyes of each generation of the owners of a medieval house, from 1380 through to the 1950s. There are wonderful vivid characters, sinister undercurrents, and numerous different storylines and themes. Lofts remains my favourite author – I have all 63 of her books. This trilogy is a joy, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been instrumental in getting it republished.
The Dictionary of National Biography
I first discovered the single-volume version of this monumental work in my school library. At that time I was busily researching royal genealogy, so it was a wonderful find, and I have never forgotten the pleasure I had trawling through it. Some years later I came across the DNB in all its individual volumes – that was heaven, and I spent many happy days in reference libraries going through it. I now own a set. It has been superseded by the Oxford DNB, but I’ve yet to find fifteen feet of shelf space for the new version.
Ghost Song by Sarah Rayne
If you want a compelling page-turner with an original and authentic setting, look no further. Sarah Rayne should be up there among the mega-sellers. Ghost Song is set in an old music hall that mysteriously closed in 1914, and it is both thrilling and chilling. "All theatres are haunted…", Rayne writes, then goes on to tell of a modern surveyor who gradually uncovers the building`s sinister secret and is menaced by its past. What is the truth about the ghost, and the actor who suddenly vanished? This is a powerful rollercoaster of a novel, with robustly drawn characters and a fiendishly twisting plot. You`ll be sleeping with the lights on after reading this one… Sweet dreams!
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
An absolute treasure that should be on everyone’s bookshelf and dipped into frequently. Every line is a masterpiece. Surely Shakespeare was the greatest writer of all time. His wisdom is immeasurable, his prose and poetry things of infinite beauty. Yes, he is for all time, and not just of an age – his genius is universal.