An interview with Rose Tremain

William Golding nicked Rose Tremain’s suitcase. Yes, really. “It was a British Council tour I did with Richard to Lisbon” — Richard Holmes, that is, biographer of Coleridge and Shelley, author most recently of The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, and Tremain’s partner — “it was an amazing group of people, and it included William Golding — one of the last tours he did before he died. We had identical suitcases, and at the airport he took mine, which caused a deal of ructions. I never got to see what was in his,” she says, laughing at the memory and arching an eyebrow. “Richard had to handle it. He’s such a diplomat. ‘Sir Bill … I think you’ve got Rose’s underwear . . .’ ”

We’re in the pretty, pale sitting room of Tremain’s house on the outskirts of Norwich; beyond the tall windows the garden looks lush, even in February. It’s an elegant setting, and so matches its owner. Listening to her low and lovely voice, it would be hard to believe, if you didn’t know better, that this self-possessed woman contained such multitudes — and indeed, such violence of emotion and imagination.