Antonia Fraser, born 1932, is a British author of history books, novels, biographies and detective fiction. She is the widow of the Nobel prize-winning playwright, Harold Pinter.
In March 2007 she was featured in the Guardian Writers’ Rooms series and spoke about her working environment.
I work on the fourth floor of our house, looking west over London and, winter and summer, I work with the window wide open. It’s a beautiful urban view often enhanced by sunsets which cannot be seen anywhere else in the house, so I believe them to be created especially for me (the picture’s angle only shows the neighbouring houses, which I try to ignore when sitting at my desk). I’ve lived in this house since 1959 and this was my six children’s nursery. The instant my youngest son moved out, I had the builders in, installing numerous bookcases. I then redecorated the room as I imagined an old-fashioned country house bedroom, blue bows, chintz and roses. I like the contrast with the black chair and metal filing cabinets. The same goes for the white amaryllis (Mont Blanc), which I grew myself. It’s all rather untidy, but that gives me a sense of security. I want my mind to be the only orderly thing in the room.
My typewriter is electric and so ancient that other typewriters have to be cannibalised when it needs mending. (The computer leads a separate existence downstairs.) I also use scissors and Sellotape to make corrections and insertions: it’s a tactile thing. On the desk there is a red glass paperweight given to me for my 10th birthday by my great-uncle, the Irish poet Lord Dunsany, and a set of miniature dictionaries given to me by Tom Stoppard 60 years later. Other necessary adjuncts of the scholar include perfume (Miss Dior), nail polish (frosty pink, called Melon of Troy) and a scented candle (Manuel Canovas: Bois de Lune). Then there are the patterned notebooks in which I note my researches by hand. I must have filled over 200. You can see three of them on the desk, to do with my current project, Queen Elizabeth I, and, on the shelf on the left, many more to do with Marie Antoinette. Originally they came from Florence, but now I order them from blessed Compton Marbling of Wiltshire. The variegated bindings are so pretty they cheer me up when work is dire.
Below is a clip courtesy of YouTube , featuring Antonia Fraser, from the Sky Arts Book Show broadcast in March 2010. Click on the YouTube link when prompted.