In the course of her 35-year career, Deborah Moggach has published 16 novels and two short story collections. Her first novel was You Must Be Sisters (1978). These Foolish Things, which she wrote in 2004, has been recently adapted for the big screen as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. Born in 1948, Moggach is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and on the executive committee of PEN. She has two children and lives in north London.

What book changed your life?

First it was the Just William books; they made language come alive for me. Later Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse sensitised me to the world in a rather thrilling way.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

Both my parents were writers – I resisted it until my early twenties but I couldn’t in the end.

What is your daily writing routine?

I make a great big cappuccino and smoke a roll-up. Then I start work at 9am, have a glass of tonic water and another roll-up at noon, and finish writing at 1pm. I can’t work in the afternoon at all.

Who are your literary influences?

Beryl Bainbridge, not that it shows but I have learnt a lot from reading her – about paring stuff down, not being too clever.

What are you scared of?

I used to be scared of slugs but I’m stoutly overcoming that. Most of all I fear being an exile – being friendless in a country where no one knows what I’m talking about.

When do you feel most free?

When I’m driving fast and listening to loud rock music. There’s something about being between spaces with no responsibilities.

How do you relax?

I dig on my allotment, swim in the ponds on Hampstead Heath and bicycle a lot. I also like walking around at dusk looking into people’s windows.

What would you change about yourself?

I’d be stronger-minded and less anxious to please people by saying nice things. I’m a bit of a coward.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

A Hans Memling. He did the most wonderful nativities and crucifixions in the 15th century. I would steal a triptych from the national museum in Bruges.

What are you most proud of writing?

Porky [1984] as it tackled incest, which wasn’t talked about in the early 1980s. I think it did some good as it’s now used in clinics.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I always wanted to be a landscape gardener. I’m never happier than when I’m heaving around bags of manure and paving stones.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Hampi in India. And the ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath – it’s utterly magical.

Deborah Moggach’s ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (formerly ‘These Foolish Things’) is published by Vintage. ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is in cinemas later this month

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