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‘My imagination had been fired by my grandmother’s secret cache of Barbara Cartlands, that she kept in a cupboard beside her bed.’

Penny Black speaks with Frances Byrnes about teenage summers in Vienna, the shock of revisiting old contracts, and how her desire to speak perfect German accidentally led to a passionate career in writing for theatre.

A lifelong fascination with history has shaped John Pilkington’s career as a novelist — as well as offering insights into vanished eras, he argues, writing about the past can be a way of understanding the present.