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The Novelist: Elizabeth Jane Howard

When Elizabeth Jane Howard began writing the first of her four novels featuring the Cazalet family, her aims were modest. "I wanted to write about my youth, and the ten years that straddled the Second World War," explains the novelist, whose book, The Light Years, introduced the Cazalets in 1990. "I also wanted to write about what domestic life was like for people at home. A lot has been written about the battles and the war in a more direct sense, but little had been said about the way the whole of England changed. When the war ended everybody was in a different position from where they were when it started."

It was a story many were clearly waiting to read. A decade later Howard's quartet of books -- The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion and Casting Off -- have sold almost exactly one million copies. "I think we're about to pass that mark any time now," she says proudly. Yet until now, she has been resistant to offers to put them on screen. Her caution is understandable. For a start the books are semi autobiographical. "The young girls -- Polly, Louise and Clary -- are all little bits of me," confides Howard who grew up in rural East Sussex during the War. "The grandparents are inspired by my grandparents, and the governess was so like ours. The house, Home Place, is very real," she says. "It is still standing."

Howard had been bitterly disappointed with a previous adaptation of one of her books, Getting It Right, and was understandably apprehensive about any further dramatizations of her work. But when, in 1998, producers Verity Lambert and Joanna Lumley had been given the go-ahead for a six-part drama based on The Light Years and Marking Time for the BBC, her fears finally gave way to excitement.

Howard's affection for the BBC runs deep. "Nobody does it better, so I knew it was going to be made well," she says. And she felt she was placing her most cherished literary creation in safe hands with Lambert and Lumley. "I felt very happy with them, they were incredibly professional and the whole picture looked very promising," she says.

Elizabeth Jane Howard is a novelist, playwright, TV writer and former actress and model. Her first husband was the naturalist Sir Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic) and her third husband was novelist Sir Kingsley Amis. Although she worked briefly in radio broadcasting, her literary interests, already kindled at school, continued after the war when she began to review books in her spare time and worked on her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, published in 1950. After a career spanning over 50 years in publishing, radio and television, Elizabeth Jane Howard is currently writing her autobiography.

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