Entry number one on page one of my journalism notebook records a roundup of romantic fiction for the Daily Telegraph. It is dated April 1986. Of course I had written a good many articles and book reviews before that, though irregularly and amateurishly. But in March 1986 I had appeared on a BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions panel beside Max Hastings who had just become the editor of the Daily Telegraph. By definition we spent the evening disagreeing with another. But at the end of it he said to me, “ Would you like to write for us?”
I had been a novelist since 1971 when my first book was published, and I felt then - and still feel - that writing novels is what I really do. Everything else - journalism, non-fiction, sitting on committees and so on - is enjoyable distraction. And in the case of journalism, enjoyable really is the word. In comparison with a long gestation of a novel, an article is written one day, in the paper the next, and in the case of the highly efficient Telegraph, paid for the day after. Quite soon I was writing for other magazines and papers too, and could accurately refer to myself as a journalist. I went to places and met people that would never have come my way otherwise. Interviews, profiles, travel writing, diary columns, think pieces - you name it, I wrote it.
And why am I mentioning all this now? Because I have just sent off an article which is numbered, in my journalism notebook, 1000. It's not objectively an enormous number, averaging out at 40 articles a year - a total which doesn't include the books I have written. But it's a kind of landmark for me, a moment to reflect how chance and luck and a single individual’s momentary impulse can transform things . Max Hastings has been my benefactor. With seven monosyllables, he changed my life.