In the 1960s, the Jackdaw series of publications introduced an excellent educational series, each dealing with a major aspect of history and illustrating it with facsimile documents relevant to the event.
The Assassination at Sarajevo explains in some detail the complexities of Europe on the eve of World War One. Documents include a facsimile of the trial of the young men involved in the plot to shoot the Archduke triggering the war, as well as exchanges between leading politicians of the time.
What I really wanted to do during World War Two was be a fighter pilot, but as this clearly was not going to happen I reverted to my other ambition: to be a writer. My stories reflected the then current scene of bombs and barrage balloons and my later love of travel. My favourite story extended over several exercise books and was about an elf called Topsy (after my bear) and his dragon, who befriended twins Dick and Terry and took them on adventures.
Aged twelve I sought the advice of no less than Richard Dimbleby, who amazingly answered in his own fair hand (right). Having followed his advice (exams, shorthand and typing) , I got a job on a small magazine run by the splendidly named Country Gentlemen's Association, still existing but with a much glossier magazine.
The break-through came when I joined an organisation called The Society of Women Journalists. We ere invited to bring short stories to be read by visiting editors, and I produced one called Denise Steps Out (see illustration below; I'd always been prone to climbing out of windows). It was written while I was at technical college where I fell for a fellow student with ginger hair. The editor on that occasion was of a magazine called Heiress, successor to Girls' Own Paper. She said it showed remarkable insight into the teenage mind (unsurprising as I was then seventeen) and offered me eighteen guineas for it. I did not know so much money existed and spent the lot on a bicycle.
In the meantime I was brewing another problem for the future. At my first job as secretary for the editor of an agricultural magazine, I had met someone whose parents ran a pub in East Anglia. I had never tried alcohol - Dad was a dedicated teetotaller and I did not know until much later that it was because his dad had had a drink problem. In East Anglia I sampled the 'forbidden fruit' and found it a wonderful aid to achieving the self confidence I lacked. As a problem it was slow-growing. Life was full and busy with increasing travel and modest success building up following on my short story sale.
In such spare time as I had I continue to write short stories, mostly for the women's magazine market, then at its peak. Following a year working in Switzerland, I took a secretarial job with the editor of a travel magazine called Go. It was badly paid but I learned a great deal about magazine production and experienced my first early travels as a writer, including to Finland and the former Yugoslavia, which became major features of my life. In fact, my interest in Finland led me to spending nearly a year working north of the Arctic Circle as well as the introduction to my future husband.
Despite this, though, I became initially irritated and then cross at the undeniable fact that I was being exploited. I'd already developed a strong affection for Finland and its wide empty spaces and decided a year there would make a total break and possibly the subject for a book.
On applying to the Finnish Tourist Board, they expressed a little surprise but suggested I could stay in some of their hotels and teach English in return for board, lodging and pocket money. And so it came to pass. It was an amazing experience from my first day when I joined the staff of the hotel in Ivalo, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to greet the sun: a brief 10-minute glimpse on the horizon, the first time they had seen it for six weeks.
Letter from Richard Dimbleby, 1943
Below: Lake Inari, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is one of Finland's largest. I spent most of a winter near here.
Left: Will someone please come to fill me up!
Same (Lapp) children practise their skills at lassoing