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Life story

I was born in 1949, twenty minutes after my twin sister Marguerite, to a French mother and an English father. I grew up in Edgware, a suburb of north-west London. My sisters and I attended two local convent schools. Summer holidays were spent at the house of our French grandparents in Normandy, near Etretat in the Pays de Caux.

I read for a B.A. in English Language and Literature at Somerville, Oxford. In those days this was a women's college: the majority of Oxford colleges did not accept women. Next, I spent two years studying to become a librarian. I knew I wanted to write but knew, too, how important it was to be able to support myself. I spent a year working for the British Council in South-East Asia. The Vietnam War was devastating the area. I gave up my job and went travelling instead.

After this I gave up any idea of working as a librarian and began earning my living from a variety of part-time jobs. Often I wrote at night. I got involved in a writers' group, writing short stories, and worked on my first novel, A Piece of the Night, which came out in 1978. It's always been important to me to be financially independent, and I've worked as a hospital cleaner, temp secretary, clerk, teacher, journalist, reviewer and critic.

Life as a writer was very hard at first. Still, a chosen poverty is easier to bear than the enforced sort. When Daughters of the House was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1992 and won the W.H.Smith Literary Award in 1993, I started making more money, and could finally give up the part-time jobs.

I've lived in many different places, including Italy and North America, but at the age of forty-four I bought my first home: a small house in France. At the moment I live in both France and England, moving back and forth between the two, and also spend some time at the University of East Anglia, where I am currently Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing.

Recently I turned down an O.B.E. because I am a republican, but I was honoured to be made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN and The Society of Authors. As well as writing, I serve as a judge for literary prizes, have presented radio arts programmes such as Night Waves, have chaired the British Council's Literature Advisory Committee, and have travelled abroad extensively with other writers on tours organised by the British Council.

I have been married twice, have two stepsons, am close to my nieces and nephews, and spend as much time as possible with my friends. Friends are crucial, a source of great pleasure. As a writer I need a great deal of solitude but in the evenings I like to get out and have a good time.

A sketch by Michèle Roberts