Q & As

Diana’s third novel

A Man of Understanding is your third novel, what drew you to writing fiction?

From a young age, it was clear that I had a talent for writing. I have enjoyed writing fiction since I was a child, when my parents bought me a paperback book as a birthday present in which to write my own novel, with a space on the front cover to write the title and my name. At about the same time, I had poems published in the school magazine. The idea of combining poetry with fiction in novels appeals to me – I hadn’t seen it done before. It has proved very popular with readers of my novels. I find fiction writing an ideal means of expressing interesting, thought-provoking themes through strong characters, with moving plots.

A varied career

You had a particularly varied career as a fashion model, a philosophy postgraduate and a lawyer, what prompted you to make the change to writing?

I believe that everyone should pursue their talents and not leave them hidden in the ground in the biblical sense of the parable of the talents. After I left school, I was a successful fashion model, represented by a top fashion modelling agency in London but Latin A level had encouraged my interest in philosophy, particularly Cicero, and so I went to UCL to read Philosophy, both as an undergraduate and a postgraduate. I qualified as a solicitor at a top international law firm and then was a barrister in Chambers in London, having been called to the Bar of the Inner Temple. My experience as a barrister showed me that I had a talent for being a mouthpiece for others, understanding clients and putting across their point of view persuasively. Studying philosophy has also proved useful in my writing, as I like to weave philosophy into my novels. However, I believe that writing literary fiction is my God-given talent.

Philosophy and poetry

There’s a wealth of philosophical thought and poetry in A Man of Understanding, which books and authors, poets and thinkers have inspired you?

Some of my philosophical heroes are Aristotle, Kant and Hume, whose philosophical thoughts appear in A Man of Understanding. Like the heroine in my previous novel The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius inspired me. Dickens is a favourite author. I admire his way of combining social comment, moral reflection, character portrayal, and humour. Hermann Hesse is an author who inspires reflection in an interesting way (particularly The Glass Bead Game and Siddharta). A favourite novel has always been An Imaginary Life by the novelist and poet David Malouf. It’s an original and lyrical novel that imagines the Roman poet Ovid’s life in exile and his encounter with a wild boy brought up by wolves. I admire many poets, including Rupert Brooke, Robert Browning, and Christina Rossetti. As a child, I was entranced by Rudyard Kipling and Walter de la Mare. I enjoyed the poems of Catullus that I studied for Latin A level – I was given a book of his poems in Latin and English translation as a school prize. I admire the odes of Horace – I wrote my own translation of one in A Man of Understanding. I find many Psalms beautiful.

Grief, love and familial ties

The novel explores grief, love and familial ties. Is it important to you to contemplate big themes in your writing?

My raison d’etre in writing is to encourage readers to reflect on subjects they may not have considered before, or from a different perspective. I’m fascinated by thought-provoking questions and topics, and I want others to feel that way too. I believe in making big themes accessible in novels without writing novels of ideas as such. The characters, setting and plot, all contribute to the overall impression I want to achieve.


Horatio, Blue’s grandfather, is an enigmatic poet and philosopher, is he based on someone in your own life?

There are elements of both my own grandfathers in Horatio. My father’s father, like my father, was a clergyman, as Horatio had been before he questioned his faith, but my grandfather sadly died before I was born. However, I learnt a lot about him from my late father and I’m sure we would have got on. He wrote poetry, like Horatio does, but usually in the form of hymns. He had a grasp of Classics, like Horatio, from studying Theology. He had a joie de vivre, a great sense of humour, a varied career in that he joined the Navy as a young man and then decided he was a pacifist and trained instead to be a clergyman. My mother’s father had been an army man and, like Horatio, was madly in love with his wife. Also like Horatio, he had a great sense of humour, and he played the mouth organ. There is also something of myself about Horatio – his love of philosophy, poetry, Mallorca, his sense of humour, his admiration of Aristotle and Greek philosophy. I studied the Pre-Socratics as part of my postgraduate degree, and of course Greek philosophy as part of my undergraduate degree. Like Horatio too, I am fascinated by Aesthetics – my postgraduate thesis was on Kant and Hume and the Standard of Taste. Having said all that, Horatio is a unique character, not really like anyone I’ve known. As I created him, he became real to me and I longed to meet him – I miss him!


How does your faith shape your writing, and your life?

In my daily prayers I ask, inter alia, for guidance as to what is the best way to live, the best way to express my true self, the best way to use my talents for the good, the best way to help others. These aren’t easy questions, but I hope that my writing is a strong part of my way of achieving these goals. For instance, I believe that A Man of Understanding should help those who are suffering from bereavement, grief, loss to find a positive, worthwhile way to overcome those emotions. I think that it will help those who are struggling to express themselves to explore different ways in which to communicate better, like Blue and Horatio, through poetry and philosophy and music, or, like John Thompson, through painting. I believe I have a skill for creating strong characters who have something interesting to say, and who show by their way of living what is important in life: love, forgiveness, helping others, development of the soul, expression through the arts, the importance of truth-telling, the value of sharing our life with a diversity of characters, young and old, the learned and those with learning difficulties such as John Thompson, who is very intelligent in a different way, yet bullied by others because he is different. When I was struggling for a title for A Man of Understanding , having thought of and dismissed hundreds, I picked up the Bible and it fell open at Proverbs 10:23 ‘…a man of understanding hath wisdom.’ The words seemed to describe the aim of the story perfectly, as the characters strive in their different ways for wisdom. Horatio, who seems to be a man of understanding in the various senses of the word – wise, learned and also compassionate, empathetic – questions whether he has been wise in his actions, or a fool. Similarly, Blue grapples with his search for wisdom and understanding, fearing that he is unwisely transferring his dependency on his parents to a dependency on his grandfather Horatio, without learning to be wise in himself. There have been times in my life when my faith has been tested, times when I have had doubts, but I have always come back to it. When I do, I find a deeper understanding, a woman of understanding, perhaps.

A Man of Understanding

A Man of Understanding features several poems, have you always written poetry? Is there something in particular that you love about the form?

I’ve written poetry since I was a child. My mother loved to read poetry to me, and I loved it when she did – she read poems so well that the words left a strong impression. The first poems I wrote were published in the school magazine, which felt like a great honour. I admire good poetry for the immediacy of ideas it conveys through minimal words. It demands close attention. It ignites the imagination. It can contain a multitude of ideas capable of a multitude of interpretations. The wonderful response to my poetry in both A Man of Understanding and my previous novel, The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, encourages me to think that there are many readers who would appreciate poetry and putting it in the context of a novel makes it more accessible.

Keeping pet sheep

What have you learned from keeping pet sheep? An unusual muse!

We’ve learned that sheep can be caring, altruistic, loving, protective and far more sensitive to mood than some people! They are more intelligent and sentient than many people realise. Although I lived in London for most of my adult life, I grew up in the country, with sheep, cows and horses for neighbours. However, it wasn’t until we met one sheep in particular – Rosie – that we really got to learn how fascinating, intelligent and interesting they could be. We bought about twenty-five to save them from going to market, from a farmer who became a good friend. He taught us a lot about them. His sheep seemed to be real characters and most of our flock were related. We had three generations of the same family (Rosie’s mother and son). They would congregate to appoint a new leader when a leader had died. They would refuse to enter a truck until the leader decided to go first. There was a peacemaker, an inseparable couple (unrelated), a comic, an attention-seeker, a rebel (who would intimidate a sheep dog into running away), a ‘Tai Chi expert’ (a ram called Brucie who saw me doing Tai Chi and decided to copy me), an adventurer (who decided to check out a nearby church and take a friend with her just as the congregation was about to arrive)…and then there was Rosie, who would take a a whole book to describe.

Food and taste

You write about how an appreciation of food and taste, can be the start of an aesthetic journey of discovery in the arts, and about the ‘aftertaste’ that follows the end of a good book, poem or piece of music etc. Tell us more about taste and the arts.

Horatio introduces Blue to experiencing the beauty of good food – the aromas, the variety of flavours, the subtlety of the tastes, such that, once the food has been devoured, a beautiful aftertaste lingers, not just in the mouth but in the memory (as Proust describes so beautifully in Swann’s Way). It is why Horatio takes Blue from Mallorca to Morocco to savour his first tagine, in its right environment, regional food created and improved over generations, each one adding new flavours to the experience, served in clay pots that locals have crafted with their own hands, like a beautifully-created oil painting with layers of colour and the right balance of light and shade.

Horatio believes in experiences such as this to broaden the aesthetic repertoire, to help Blue ascertain a delicacy of taste and gain experience in picking out ingredients. He takes him from Morocco to the South of France where he educates him in savouring yet more subtle flavours. He explains to his grandson that the philosopher David Hume had also recognised the importance of a good palate, which he compared to an ability to perceive beauty. He explains to Blue that good poetry possesses the same subtlety of flavours as the flavours in the food he has savoured – delicate herbs, sharp contrasts, intense reductions that need to be held in the mouth to savour fully. Similarly, the words of poetry or a good book must be held in the mind longer, savoured in order to enjoy them. And they leave an aftertaste once they’ve been digested.

He teaches Blue that when he recalls a piece of music, such as Max Bruch’s violin concerto, it is not just an analysis of the notes that remains in the memory. Rather, it is feeling the music , loving it in the heart, even if you don’t understand it all, it makes you want to cry, like when you lose someone special. It moves the soul. It remains even when the actual music is no longer playing. That is the aftertaste.

Each work of art, whether a story, a painting, a poem, a piece of music, must have an ending, a final word, a final brushstroke, a final note, when a work of art concludes, just like a life will have a final day, a final breath. But what matters most of all, Horatio believes in A Man of Understanding, is the aftertaste that follows these experiences, in the Arts and perhaps after life itself – therein lies the true reality.

People’s Book Prize

A Man of Understanding was the Runner Up in the People’s Book Prize 2023, Fiction Category. Tell us a little about that, what has that meant to you?

It was a great achievement. Frederick Forsyth is the Patron Emeritus of the Prize and the the late Dame Beryl Bainbridge was the Founding Patron of the People’s Book Prize. She is quoted as having said of the Prize, ‘I look forward to the time when we mention this particular prize as the greatest’. For the people to decide which book they think should win makes the Prize very special. After all, it is for the people that we write. 

What’s next?

What’s next for you?

I am writing a novel about a musician. As in A Man of Understanding, the Arts and their influence on our thinking as a way of developing the soul and growing as individuals is a big theme in the book. The characters are all strong, interesting individuals.


What advice would you give to struggling writers?

First of all, contemplate hard on whether writing is the best way for you to use your talents. You have to enjoy writing and know why it is you want to write before you pursue what can be a challenging career. Read a lot of books, but don’t try and write like someone else. Rather, express who you are. Some writers write because they long to create a blockbuster bestseller. I can’t give advice if that’s the motivation because that isn’t how I think about writing. For me, it is all about quality not quantity. I’m interested only in books that have something worthwhile to say, to contribute to the world, books that have been written with love and devotion. Of course, it’s great when a book sells well and achieves this goal at the same time. There’s nothing better as a writer than reading from others that they have loved your book, that it has made them think and reflect, that it’s beautiful and moved them. Some writers create a plot skeleton before they begin writing a novel. I prefer not to do this. I create the main character(s) first of all, and they drive the plot, they take me on a journey of discovery – a small detail about their character, their interests, their soul, tells me where the plot should go and what the character wants to convey, what his or her message is, who they are. If I don’t get that sort of feedback from the main character(s), I leave that novel and move on to creating other characters with a different story to tell. I would also advise struggling writers not to feel they have to finish a novel quickly once they’ve started it. Sometimes it’s better to shelve it for a while and go back to it. Sometimes it’s not the right time for your characters to speak to you. Sometimes you have to grow just as much as they do!


The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose has been compared to Sophie’s World and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. What do you see as the similarities?

The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose is a philosophical novel, as is Sophie’s World, however I didn’t want it to be a novel which discussed in detail the views of prominent philosophers, although it is clear just how much Harriet is influenced by philosophers such as Kant, Descartes, Heraclitus and of course her hero Marcus Aurelius. But what also makes my novel philosophical is the way in which Harriet responds to the world around her and the thoughts she creates. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is considered an original novel, with a strong narrative voice, as is The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, but the subject matter of the two novels is very different.


What are your interests when you’re not writing?

Like my heroine Harriet Rose, I love playing chess. I play tennis most days with my husband (and sometimes in tournaments) even in Winter – if there’s half a court not covered with snow I’ll play on it! I enjoy playing table tennis (winner of numerous tournaments) and playing my violin (classically trained).

Favourite country

The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose is on sale in many countries worldwide and is translated into different languages. What is your favourite country/language?

I’ve always lived in England, both in the country and in Central London. The English countryside at its best is magnificent and London as a city is hard to beat. From childhood, I have travelled regularly to the south of France, which I love. My husband and I always choose the mountains of Mallorca when we want a relaxing break. Spanish is my favourite language after English (I speak Spanish, French and German). I stayed in Madrid for the launch of the Spanish translation of The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose (El Mundo de Harriet). I fell in love with it and can’t wait to go back.


Which author do you admire most?

My favourite novelist is Charles Dickens. He manages to combine serious moral and social statements with an inspirational sense of humour, a combination which I always aim to achieve. Whilst his books are humorous, he is taken seriously as a writer without being pigeonholed.


Harriet Rose, the eponymous heroine of The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose, is fascinated by Philosophy. As a teenager were you interested in Philosophy?

Certainly, yes. While I was at school I studied Latin as one of my ‘A’ levels and developed an interest in the philosophy of Cicero and others, which obviously grew during my time as an undergraduate and postgraduate in Philosophy at University College London. In fact, my first novel, The Choice, is also a philosophical novel. It explores the concepts of free will and determinism and moral responsibility, concepts which I studied in depth for my degrees. The story involves a twenty-first century barrister, Lily, who is asked to represent Eve, First Created Woman, at a trial. Eve continues to blame herself for her actions which she believes led to the downfall of mankind, but God believes Eve’s soul deserves another chance.

Harriet Rose

Although The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose is a philosophical novel, it is humorous too. What was your motivation behind this unusual combination in your novel?

A knowledge of philosophy and a sense of humour form two strong aspects of my personality. It seems to me a common misconception that philosophy has to be presented in a serious, dry manner to be persuasive. On the contrary, I believe that humour is an extremely powerful vehicle for all manner of academic subjects, especially within the novel. The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose appeals to readers of varying levels of understanding of philosophy – those who, like me, have an academic background in the subject, and others who have no previous knowledge of philosophy but who finish my book with an interest in it.

Most over-used phrase

Is there a phrase you use too often?

Isn’t it time for lunch yet?

Surprising thing

What was the most surprising thing that ever happened to you?

Being born. I couldn’t think where I was. I’m still getting over it.


When you were a child, what did you want to be?

That happy forever.


What would be the soundtrack to your life?

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it.